Elisa Albert, Darin Strauss, Peter Manseau and more Great Fiction coming in September


One of the best parts of my job is being able to read in-advance many of the authors we end up bringing for the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. For a four-eyed, lit-geek like myself, sitting on the Metro, reading a book emblazoned with “Advance Uncorrected Proofs: Not For Sale” is as close as I come to getting behind the velvet ropes of life. I may not score any invites to an inaugural ball, but I got to read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America weeks before it hit the shelves. Yeah, the ladies dig me.

So, I am having a great summer riding Metro, reading the lineup for the LitFest. I’ve even missed my stop a couple of times. The schedule for the Festival, running September 14-24 is online now and tickets are on-sale tomorrow. I’ll just mention below some of the books I’ve been able to read. In the coming weeks, we’ll have more detailed posts about the books and authors, as well as interviews and hopefully some multi-media, web 2.0-savvy content for you.

In this post, I’ll start with fiction. I’ve found time to read Darin Strauss‘s button-pushing novel More Than It Hurts You, which centers around a suburban Long Island Jewish couple, Josh and Dori Goldin, brought into tragic conflict with the Dr. Darlene Stokes, a brilliant African American doctor who treats their son for a mysterious ailment in the Emergency Room.

Elisa Albert‘s The Book of Dahlia is way too funny for a book about a young woman slowly dying of a malignant brain tumor. I think I may have dated Dahlia in college, or at least someone like her–damaged from divorce, blinded by low self-esteem to her own beauty, crazy mother, more than mildly self-destructive. She dumped me, with sentiments not unlike Dahlia, “What kind of loser would be so kind to someone like her: someone so obviously fucked up, problematic and issue-ridden? Would laugh at her stupid jokes? Would look at her and see anything but sheer ugliness? Would assert he dumbshit notion that everything would be okay? She dumped him in the most callous way imaginable. No explanation, no care–no returned phone calls, no email.”

Peter Manseau‘s first novel, Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter is perhaps a natural follow-up to his award-winning memoir Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun and Their Son. Like Manseau, the narrator of the story is a young Catholic from Boston who ends up working at an organization dedicated to saving Yiddish books. However, the story truly takes flight in the “memoirs” of Itzik Malpesh, a Yiddish poet that the young man meets and whose story he translates. The story of Itzik’s birth, and how his life was saved by the butcher’s daughter Sasha Bimko becomes the pivotal moment of his life and his poetic destiny, which carries him from Kishinev to Odessa to New York and Baltimore. The “translator’s notes,”  inserted between episodes of Itzik’s life, serve as a counterpoint for the ways in which language can both reveal and hide the truth, just as characters in the story reveal and hide parts of themselves.

I’ve still got more fiction to read, including Adam Langer‘s Ellington Boulevard and Eileen Pollack‘s collection of short stories, In The Mouth. But next Thursday, I’ll post about some of the non-fiction we’ve got coming.

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