Derik: Ah, Saul's self-imposed isolation. That reminds me of something else I had wanted to say, a connection I did see amongst the narratives: Saul's self-imposed isolation, Nathan's socio-economic isolation (poor immigrant), and Mocky's metaphysical isolation (literally, he's a metaphysical creature in a physical world).
As for Saul's discover of his connection to Nathan and his heritage--and perhaps I am just seeing foreshadowing and thematic unity--I thought that was a big part of the first section of the novel. His walks and talks with Aunt Keni not to mention the erotic/romantic undertones, gave him that connection to the heritage and Nathan. He loses it with her death, and then spends the rest of the novel getting back to that point without her aid. That isn't exactly getting nowhere but still feels circular. Even so, this kind of roundabout way of getting a very small distance is more satisfying to me than a more dramatic change.
Your description of Saul's discovery: "the Jewish heritage of storytelling, of making sense of a very troubling and often hostile reality through fable and fantasy," pulls a lot of it together for me. This is why rereading is useful before discussing a book (particularly in public). I am a bit disheartened to feel the drag of another novel about writing. The fantastical storytelling of Nathan, used to seduce a woman, becomes another novel. I feel that something is lost there (and then I start thinking about Derrida, Rousseau and the primacy of orality and I really get confused).
As for Mocky's story, I wonder (and this is something to ask Stern, I guess) if he considered actually putting Mocky's story within Nathan's, as Nathan tells the story. I would have felt more connection to it that way, I think.
Anyway... I also wanted to note how much I enjoyed the section of the narrative involving Saul's commune farm. I'm young enough to have missed the sixties and have no memory of the seventies, so the failed hippie commune utopia is something that interests me in an historical way. Stern's telling of this section is at the same time dreamlike and so down to earth.
I must also note Stern's use of the comma to give those large sentences structure. I love good comma use.
Dan: It is true that Saul is introduced by Aunt Keni to the cultural heritage of the Lower East Side and that he has to return to it later. But it's his rediscovery of Nathan's manuscript that seems to awaken Saul's own imagination. It allows him to move from mere acquaintance with Jewish history and traditions--which he has further acquired through his own academic work--to an active engagement with its literary forms. I don't know if you'd call this a "dramatic change," but it is a change.
Although The Angel of Forgetfulness is a "novel about writing," this description only goes so far. Writing--storytelling more generally--represents the human ability to transform perceived reality into more satisfying imaginative forms and to transcend immediate circumstances by, at least temporarily, giving oneself over to this kind of imaginative transformation. The story of Nathan telling Keni the story of Mocky the fallen angel, and in the process also captivating Keni to the extent that she falls in love with Nathan, is an example of the way "story" indeed trumps "life."
Your own enjoyment of the "commune" section suggests, however, that Stern's interests go beyond just contructing an intricate metafiction (although AOF is that as well). His portrayal of this period of Saul's life is as discerning an account of how and why the counterculture arose and then collapsed as you're likely to read (at least in fiction).
Perhaps what I most admire about Stern is his colorful but assured prose style. So I'll end with this quotation from the commune section:
"In the beginning we were staggered by the magnitude of what we'd undertaken: how could we have deliberately marooned ourselves in such inimical surroundings? We were overwhelmed by the persistence of nature, with its venomous plants and reptiles, the bloated blood ticks that clung to our armpits and ears like paste pearls. We were disappointed in Billy Boots, who, having brought us here, refused to play the part of leader and instead kept his own counsel. There were tarantulas and wolves, no-necked neighbors who burned crosses and barns: there was a wilderness that defied our best efforts to find soothing precedents, Lord of the Flies being the most obvious literary model. We felt alone in all creation. "First things first"; we repeated this brainless mantra, though we hadn't a clue where to begin. But there was the fire to build and the tents to secure, the coffee to boil; there were children, no less, in need of assurance and shoes. So we grimly set about the necessary tasks as if, though there was no immediate danger, we were locked in a life and death struggle with the elements."