The Litblog Co-op is pleased to announce its Autumn 2005 Read This! Selection: The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern. The weeks ahead will include chats with Stern and others involved in the publication of the book, and we will announce the dates here as soon as they are scheduled.
We've made a few other changes since last time. We'll be unveiling the other four considered titles over the next four days - Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. And we've scheduled week-long back-and-forth discussions with LBC members taking up the pros and cons of each title, based on the succesful model seen over at Tingle Alley. The dates for these discussions will be at the end of each of the annoucement posts. And, of course, the Minority Opinion will return for those less enthusiastic about the pick.
Now we're happy to present Dan Green, who nominated The Angel of Forgetfulness, as he tells why we think you should Read This!
When I nominated Steve Stern’s The Angel of Forgetfulness (Viking) for this second LBC Read This! selection, I considered my choice an opportunity not merely to draw attention to a very good novel but also to alert readers to a writer who has been producing equally good books for over twenty years. Although a recent New York Times profile of Stern proclaimed him a writer who has attracted “critical acclaim” but few readers, the fact is that Stern’s “acclaim” has not at all spread as widely as his consistently excellent body of work deserves. I now hope that whatever additional acclaim our selection of The Angel of Forgetfulness implicitly represents might help to bring Steve Stern more readers as well, readers who might move on from this novel to pick up one of his earlier books.
That Stern does not already have a wide audience is something of a puzzle. Although The Angel of Forgetfulness could be called a metafiction—it’s a story about a story about a story—this does not at all suggest how thoroughly entertaining I think most readers would find this novel to be. Since I have already written a review of The Angel of Forgetfulness that expresses my immediate response to the novel, I will quote from it here:
“In his first novel since Harry Kaplan’s Adventures Underground (1991), Steve Stern has produced what is probably his most ambitious work to date. The Angel of Forgetfulness ranges over two different epochs in American history, several centuries of Jewish history, and three interconnected stories. The novel attempts a kind of literary archaeology of Jewish life on the Lower East Side of New York in the early twentieth century, while also depicting one character’s ultimate rediscovery of the lasting vitality of Jewish culture. And it seeks to provoke reflection on the way in which storytelling and imagination can often disarm our merely rational powers. Happily, the novel carries out every one of these tasks with great skill, making it both an impressive display of literary artistry and a virtuoso act of storytelling in its own right. . .
“Saul Bozoff, the protagonist of Angel, is a native of Memphis, but the novel follows him on his journey out of the city of his birth and toward…he doesn’t really know what. The first chapter (a tour de force in and of itself) finds Saul attending college in New York City, where he meets Aunt Keni, one of the few surviving residents of what was a thriving Jewish neighborhood. Saul is drawn to Keni and her stories about the old neighborhood, and she passes on to him a manuscript—The Angel of Forgetfulness—written by Nathan Hart, Keni’s long-dead lover. The rest of the novel alternates between Saul’s subsequent experiences on a hippie commune and as an instructor in a small New England college, a reconstruction of Nathan Hart’s life story as a recent immigrant and then a writer for the Jewish Daily Forward, and excerpts from the manuscript itself, which tells the fantastic tale of an angel named Mocky who prefers life on earth to a less eventful existence in heaven.
“The connections between the three stories remain tantalizingly open for most of the novel, but they eventually come together in a wholly satisfying way that reveals them to be much more than simply parallel narratives. And the ingenuity with which Stern molds his stories is matched by the color and the vigor of his prose style, which has always been, in tandem with his powers of invention, the great delight of his fiction. Stern is, finally, a writer able to unite imagination and skill with language in an almost unbeatable combination.”
For those who indeed might want to read some of Stern’s other fiction, I strongly recommend his last book, The Wedding Jester (Graywolf Press), which especially highlights Stern’s comedic abilities, as well as A Plague of Dreamers and Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven. (Although reading the former may require a trip to a used book store. Sadly, it is one of three of Stern’s books that are currently out of print or available only through special order.) In my opinion, these books contain some of the finest short fiction by an American writer to appear in the past quarter-century. Many of them depict life in “The Pinch,” a Jewish enclave in Memphis that Stern vividly renders into a self-enclosed world reminiscent of those created by writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud.
I want to thank my fellow members of the Litblog Co-op, who, in choosing The Angel of Forgetfulness, have, I would like to think, made it somewhat more likely that Steve Stern will begin to acquire the readership his work so clearly warrants.
Interested in Reading This with the Litblog Co-op? Members of LBC will host a weeklong discussion of The Angel of Forgetfulness beginning September 26. Hope to see you there!