Thursday, February 03, 2005


Finally got around to reading Wendy Shalit’s The Observant Reader and because so many good things have already been said, I'll be briefer than usual:

1 - Nathan Englander is a poseur. Sarah undresses him completely, and that's good. (though she didn't say anything that was new -- to me, at least) Does the fact that he went to HANC and not the Mir de-legitimize his writing about Haredim? Of course not. But Shalit thinks otherwise. She wants more truth in his fiction and frets that “most people” might not realize Englander’s background ipso facto means his tales are fiction.


The implied disclaimer on any work of fiction is this: The author is not nec. trying to be realistic.

Englander is not an anthropologist. He’s a writer of fiction. If he can imagine the scene, and present it in a way that is artful and entertaining, he’s done his job. In fiction, no extra points are awarded for getting the facts straight.

How bizarre that Shalit seems not to know this.

2 - Tova Mirvis, another of Shalit's victims, is the real deal. I hated The Outside World, because the plot was sappy and the writing was ponderous. I didn’t find anything artful or entertaining about her writing. Her success, however, was in the book’s characters and details. Here, there was not one false note. Now, as Shalit is quick to insist, not every nouveau yeshiva-boy is as conflicted and contradictory in his behavior as Baruch. And yes, not all of us bussed our fiancées outside the engagement party. But to deny that these things happens in the world Mirvis’s characters inhabit? To deny the reality of a character like Barush when at least one is produced every year in every American-style yeshiva in Israel? Shalit’s dreaming.

Mirvis gets no extra point for being accurate – accuracy, again, isn’t a criteria for good fiction - but it was a small joy to read about characters I recognized from my own life.