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August 1-7, 2007

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'Leonard Michaels: The Collected Stories'

Leonard Michaels: The Collected Stories
(By Leonard Michaels; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 416 pages; $26 cloth)

This hefty collection has all the hallmarks of a writer's resurrection from near senescence. And then you turn the first page and find Michaels' voice inside, hurrahing from beyond the grave at full tilt, winging naughty sentences at the sky. "In the spring of the year following his divorce," starts a "Girl With a Monkey," "while traveling alone in Germany, Beard fell in love with a young prostitute named Inger and canceled his plans for further travel." Like his contemporary Philip Roth, Michaels blasted into this world on a current of late-'60s sexuality. And yet, minus their sexual politics, the 38 stories here, some of which date back to that era, feel as if they could have been written yesterday. The incidents they describe could have occurred an hour ago. The rhythm and pitch of their sentences are so perfectly balanced that one has to work at not continuing through the whole book. "She didn't like me," starts one story, "so I called her every day." Miscommunications, misinterpretations and hilarious crossing of paths surface again and again in this work. often presented through an expert montage of dialogue. This volume contains all of Michaels' early short fiction, a selection from his work in the '90s and then ends with seven never-before-collected and very emotionally engaging stories about a Jewish mathematician named Nachman. The jiggle and wiggle of his early fiction, which unfurls so swiftly on the page in those short sentences, takes on a guarded darkness in the Nachman stories, a fitting end note to a career fitfully coming back into the limelight.

Review by John Freeman


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