What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander is a collection of short stories rooted in Englander's own cultural awareness but not in the least limited by it. Rather, he takes the unique experience of his characters and makes them feel universal. Impossible though it may seem, what Englander accomplishes is masterful.
My voice is just going to be another in praised of this brilliant short story collection. So here is a list of the stories with my feelings about each story, for better or worse.
The titular story, which introduces the collection, tells the story of a couple who have long been friends and are coping with their cultural identity and survivor's guilt in the best way they can. The tension of their different choices is underscored by their shared awareness of who they are to one another, to themselves, and within a society that still feels fraught with danger and risk.
"Sister Hills" serves as an allegory for the political context in which the story, itself, is told. What happens when superstition becomes so strong as to define and even determine law? A frightening question to answer.
"How We Avenged the Blums" is a compelling bildungsroman, as haunting and relevant as it is powerful. I felt I recognized each and every character in this story, understood their motivation without being told what each desired.
"Peep Show" reminded me of "Passing" by Lanston Hughes but lacked its emotional power. This was more Freudian in many ways as well, which is probaby another reason I was not completely excited by it. A good story but, for me, not a great one.
"Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother's Side" was one of those stories that touched a personal chord. So much so that I was focusing on things other than the story itself to keep an emotional distance. The story is told in numbered fragments and I found myself focusing on the multiples of eighteen for some deeper or more pivotal meaning. As a result, I was not immersed and lost the opportunity to lose myself in the narrative.
"Camp Sundown" is the story I think will haunt and disturb me the most. What is the cost of retribution? What is the sacrifice demanded of bearing witness? Haunting.
"The Reader" has an element of the grotesque, with a sort of nightmarish tone that any writer will recognize. A curious story that I thoroughly enjoyed (and maybe even appreciated on a personal level).
"Free Fruit for Young Widows" is a perfect way to end this collection, book-ending so well with the first story and tying it all together, resonating thematically with many of the previous stories.
I love this collection of short stories. I've already recommended it to my mother and plan on giving my copy to my son who I am sure will appreciate it nearly as much as I, if not more. For anyone who likes short stories, be prepared to fall in love with this collection.