This is an author that those who like literature that is authentically artistic will look forward to reading more of. I happen to be very fond of Jewish stories. So this has been a delightful read although not all of the eight stories reflect delightfulness. The stories, some in first person and some a combination of first and second and some in third, are indeed "un"American since they all involve characters who either came to the United States or who have very deep roots elsewhere.
My domestic partner's first-generation American Jewish parents had strong communist leanings and were devoted to all that FDR accomplished while my long-standing American protestant parents (my mother traced her lineage back to William Bradford of The Mayflower fame) detested communists and all things FDR. My partner's parents were poor whereas mine rose rapidly into the middle class in the 50s. And in "Duck and Cover," the reader meets some truly wonderful characters, a story told by a now-adult-but-then-teenage Jewish girl--all things are Jewish in these stories--whose mother died years ago and whose father is completely into "the Party." The title is in reference to what my partner and I laugh about today, the times when we were to "duck and cover"--duck under our desks to cover ourselves--in preparation for the inevitable end because of "the commies" and their bombs (not that back then discussions centered around the country that actually used those bombs first!). The story, as is true of all these stories, is told in such an authentic voice.
"The Quiet Man" is another favorite--essentially they all fall under that category. Told in first person by a Prague-born father who with his young wife and baby daughter came to this country where he taught at a college in Vermont. (I lived most of my life in Vermont, much of it in Middlebury where Middlebury College is located--and taught there.) But the marriage ended with his wife's move to New York City where she had custody of their daughter, now herself an adult who has just recently published her first play. The narrator had a downward professional projector--he had to settle for adjunct teaching--and has ended up living in a college town in Maine. (My former wife moved to a college town in Maine, and I have an adult daughter who is a writer. And I just ended teaching as an adjunct English "professor"-not who loved this sentence from the story: "But the last thing I wanted to do was read another student essay.") The daughter goes to visit him, and he realizes that they don't know how to relate to each other, something I have experienced with one of my daughters. So this story in particular felt so real to me.
There are nine stories. "My Grandmother Tells Me This Story" is one that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to study a very unique presentation of point of view since it is an interesting combination of first person and second--and I love how many writers today write in second person. The thirteen-year-old Jewish grandmother has been telling her story again and again over the decades. And in this story the reader experiences the horrors of what happened to her and the grandfather, what Jewish youth were forced to do in war-torn Europe in attempts to survive, but in this telling of the story it is also the grandchild's perspective of what happened, one that demonstrates both the poignancy of the narrator's admiration of her grandparents and what they suffered but also how it has impacted all future generations. I experience this often with my partner who retells his Jewish roots again and again because it is his only way of dealing with the pain.
"The Old World" is one of her stories in this collection that has some very humorous lines, a good one to begin with which you will do if you go in order. However, the next story, "Minor Heroics," set in Israel, depicts the horrors of what life can be like in the middle of war.
Designated as 5 under 35 by the National Book Foundation--meaning she's under 35 years old--might suggest a lack of enough life experiences to write with much wisdom. Well, that's certainly not true for these stories which demonstrates a profound understanding of a wide variety of people. "...but Talia had known her parents for too long to have any idea what they actually looked like now." She's currently living with them given her reduced status as a journalist. So a reader might think that untrue. In this story, "A Difficult Phase," the reader becomes aware that what the first-person narrator really means is this: we get used to elder faces and find ourselves not quite sure what those people now look like. And since I'm one of them, I understand exactly what this is about. This story, like all the others, has a remarkable cast of characters--and it's sort of a love story.
In the stories set in Israel there's the overlay of the military draft, and although the author doesn't tip her hand politically in any of these stories, there exists the existential threat for the lives of those living there.
I predict that Molly Antopol will be one of America's newest great literary writers.
But! There is one factual error on page 245. There are no trains that run from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to Brattleboro. Oops!