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WEINER – the movie, or, trapped in “Life the Sitcom”

The most powerful image in the film is Weiner and wife Humma after the “sexting” images of Anthony naked surfaced, ruining his bid for becoming Mayor. He is sitting, staring forward, nothing to say. She is standing, also with nothing to say. They both understood the compulsion that had him by the short hairs (ugly but appropriate). There it was—nothing to say. But something deeply understood. So deeply, she stayed with him.

The image reminded me of Sam Roth, who could only mutter “I’m sorry” to his wife after his term in prison for publishing porno, doing what he had to in the early morning, before she woke up.  Read More 
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Max Apple's The Jew of Home Depot

Max Apple’s short stories are part of the long list of Jewish-American works in the genre, and a very late entry. His predecessors and contemporaries are as distinguished as possible: Singer, Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Ozick, Delmore Schwartz, Wil Eisner; more recently, Nathan Englander, Steve Stern, Ben Katchor.

Apple differs in that the others deal with Jewish history, patterns of thought, Biblical, historical and spiritual allusions, and a set of anxieties and beliefs which make their work recognizably part of something with spiritual implications that a people have had in common for a thousands of years. Apple’s work has a looser allegiance to all that, but are in the tradition nonetheless. They focus on the inevitability, actually the comedy, of assimilation. As for comedy, there are as excellent as Steve Stern’s (and Harry Golden’s). Read More 
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I blogged back in August 2013 on Moyshe-Leyb Halpern (1886-1932). He wrote about New York in the time of immigration, neon, the El and its noise and grit, poverty, ragtime, the heat of August sticking to the body at manual labor. An immigrant, Halpern contrasts the small Polish town and the Lower East Side with images as powerful as Pound's, and as brief. Here is “Tuesday,” – in a sweatshop.
[Will] the prince from Neverland / Come to that one, always dreaming? / And if she who dreams no longer/ Always clothed in yellow flowers, / Will sit there, her bright braid greying/ Hunched forever over sewing. Read More 
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A GRAPHIC MEMOIR OF ILLICIT LOVE, with shades of Samuel Roth

Or, an almost invisible wink. On the dust jack of Bill Griffith’s exceptional graphic memoir _Invisible Ink_, the woman on the cover—an image of his mother, Barbara-- is winking. A wink is a gesture, some of them jolly ones, esp. between mother and son. This one has many meanings, for the artist and the viewer. The book is an achievement full of subtle ironies. It is a son’s story, a father’s story, and a story of illicit love between two intelligent suburbanites who deeply love each other, while being able to live in two worlds, both of which are deeply ingrained in their souls and to both of which they pay deep attention and respect.  Read More 
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Kafka's _The Trial_: what it really takes to make that prepare for that passage to "The True World" Roth visited after his 1936 trial.

Joseph K changes his identity completely in the course of the novel. One might say it is changed for him, but the very distant narrator avoids not only emotional involvement, but anything definite about what is going on (or even how things began or ended). He says “someone must have slandered Joseph” on the first page and “It seems the shame was to outlive him” at the end. It’s like the comedian’s shrug of the shoulders after telling a howler.

To me, he is a kind of everyman, a person in pain, protesting too much about his sense of security, but going through a metamorphosis. He does not seem to know where he stands with people, and Fraulein Burstner seems to wearily tolerate him. At the start, Joseph is kind of like Gregor in THE METAMORPHOSIS—his family is proud of him, and he had learned to maintain his status, at some cost to his self-esteem.  Read More 
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Lilith, Hasidic Folklore in a Pulp Crime Paperback, 1952

A sister, a Lilith, a monster of the morbid imagination. Serpent's Tale edition of the novel
David Goodis’ _Of Tender Sin_ (1952) was published as a mass-market pulp novel of mean streets, crime, and forbidden love (“strange bypaths of his own twisted emotions”). Beyond those selling points are sexual desire thwarted by a primordial sense of guilt, sado-masochism, incest, romantic idealism contrasted with demeaning lust, and a vivid picture of slum life in post-war America. These topics appeared in many crime novels by writers such as Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, Dorothy B Hughes, Horace McCoy, and others. What is exceptional in Of Tender Sin is not, therefore, his allusions to Freud, Faulkner, Hemingway, or Kafka, or that Goodis used folklore and myth to drive his narrative pace. What was unique was that Goodis chose biblical and Hasidic story involving deadly storms, doppelgangers and demons, especially Lilith. If there is a more noirish work of literature than the Old Testament (Tanack), shout it out.
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You are a bit too much of a Jacobus, Mr. Jacobus.”

_A Smile of Fortune_ is set in a beautiful Pacific Ocean island, at which the narrator, a captain, has docked; the suppliers of the ships are the Jacobus brothers, who have not spoken to one another in 18 years. The word “Jew” is not mentioned in Conrad’s great story.
One of the brothers, Ernest, is an assimilated citizen. He is owed a lot of money, hosts parties, has taste and manners , and is trusted. He treats half-caste servants just as brutally as the rest of the colonists.
The other is Arthur, an outcast,  Read More 
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Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip follows Philip Roth’s Zuckerman persona and writings such as The Ghost Writer and Exit Ghost to some extent, with a voice-over reminiscent of a Woody Allen film. But the wistful regret of Alvie Singer in Annie Hall is replaced by tragic futility, regarding the course of author Philip Louis Friedman’s life and whatever was left of his mentor’s, Ike Zimmerman. Their monument is not love of girl friend, wife, or daughter, but the grudging respect of their talent by critics, agents publishers, and people who might have been loved ones but whose frailties and self-respect has been rubbed raw by Philip’s and Ike’s intense and intensely perceptive awareness of everyone’s vulnerabilities. As for their own, they can’t see them. That is implied by the display of the two writers’ dust jackets as the closing credits roll. Those alone are their legacy.  Read More 
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Gerald Kerch wrote great crime novel, from which a great noir film was made: _Night and the City_. He had incredible verbal skills. He was Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock's favorite writer.

. One of the main characters in Night and the City is Jewish. Kersh often writes of the East End Jewish “alrightniks” from which he came. They are without any but the most artificial religious beliefs, and their real religion is their business. His first novel (aptly titled _Jews Without Jehovah_) was withdrawn after about a week on sale because his relatives, seeing themselves in the characters, sued for libel. He depicts the way they say Kaddish, visit their dead relatives' gravesites, celebrate Yom Kippur, and otherwise meld Jewish ritual into their lower middleclass milieu.

It is, remarkably, not all mordant and corrosive.  Read More 
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Powerful pop culture with a signpost of Hasidic (?) mysticism

Wil Eisner’s “The Building”
This is a sentimental but somehow unforgettably real tale, spanning the life of single corner building in NYC. Eisner introduces the graphic short story by saying he is sure that buildings—“barnacled with laughter and stained by tears”-- have souls. He tells 4 residents’ stories, each full of ordinary ambitions, blockades to happiness, struggles to find contact and mutual respect, and lonely decline. Well, as a prophet once said, “You are not required to finish.” But each of these people does heed a still small voice to begin to recover what is lost and scattered, although none reach the citadel. And as a literary prophet (Kafka) wrote, “The possibilities of salvation are as real as the hiding places from it.” Hasidic mysticism at the heart of 4 life-stories that are as melancholy as the four downcast ghosts that the denizens of The Building become.
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