PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' Continues to Show Just How Talented Joseph Epstein Is

Photo (partial) found on Art of Manliness.com

Joseph Epstein, one of the most admired essayists in American literature, turns his focus to storytelling in his latest book.


The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 272 pages
Author: Joseph Epstein
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-06
Amazon

I recall, back in my student days at Oxford, a classmate who had each issue of The American Scholar shipped to her from across the pond primarily to read the essays by the mysterious contributor Aristides. I came to share my friend’s enthusiasm for this essayist, who was almost a throwback to an earlier age in his erudition and beautifully constructed prose. On any topic, even the most commonplace -- napping, gossip, pets, aging -- Aristides would craft rich expositions that could serve as models of English composition.

Aristides, as it turns out, was a pseudonym for Joseph Epstein, editor of The American Scholar from 1975 to 1997. Since his departure from that periodical, he has continued to show off his stylish prose in a series of discursive books, including volumes devoted to snobbery, friendship, and envy. However, I never had the chance to read Epstein’s fiction until I encountered his latest book, entitled The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff. In these 14 stories, Epstein moves away from the expansive topics of his essays, and presents small-scale vignettes, most of them focusing on post-WWII Jewish life in Chicago.

I had some trepidations about reading this book. Epstein’s writing talent seems so well suited for the general -- he has usually picked the most amorphous topics for his books and essays -- that I doubted he could shift gears and do justice to the particular. The great essayist, I feared, might be a sub-par storyteller. Yet I walk away a true believer. In story after story in this collection, he presents vivid characters, well-paced narratives, perky dialogue and solid plots. Hey, he now makes me wonder why he has spent all those years writing non-fiction.

Epstein’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers the constraints he imposes on himself in these stories. Many of his characters are in their 70s or 80s. They have often spent their lives in ho-hum pursuits -- selling auto parts or plumbing fixtures -- and now have few ambitions or unfulfilled dreams, if they ever did. But they do have regrets, memories and lingering relationships, and these present their own elements of drama and crisis.

In one story, Jerry Mandel encounters a childhood friend who was the star junior tennis player in the Chicago area, but is now selling lightbulbs at Home Depot. In another tale, David Siegel befriends a Muslim street person, but soon finds that his acts of charity lead to unintended, and perhaps dangerous, consequences. Widower Milton Kuperman, who figures in another story, has spent his life buying and selling closeout items, but now he starts dating a woman who only wants to attend concerts of classical music. The set-ups are simple enough, but Epstein makes each account compelling, surprising, and true to life.

Some of the characters escape the practicalities of the real world to become authors or philosophers. Most here have come to expect that their moments of great achievement will be grounded in everyday matters. I kept on finding myself reminded of the wealthy family in Henry James’ The Ambassadors, who are too embarrassed to admit where the money comes from, merely hinting that it derives from “a small, trivial, rather ridiculous object of the commonest domestic use” yet one lacking in “dignity”.

In Epstein’s stories, most characters make their living in similarly banal ways. Here people keep saying things like: “Where you make your dough is in buying. Any shmegegge can move the goods if the price is right.” Or: “You don’t become an accountant. You hire an accountant.” Or we peek in on Kuperman’s mind when, while listening to a Handel oratorio: he agonizes over a close-out purchase he had just made of a lot of out-of-fashion ties -- but finally consoles himself with the thought: “At eight cents a shot, how could he go wrong?”

Even Kuperman, though, transcends the here-and-now and has his moment of ecstasy. This recurring turnaround, the moment of self-discovery in his stories, may be Epstein’s greatest achievement. At an age when most pressing matters should be resolved, his characters still have the capacity to surprise themselves and others. Perhaps the same is true of Epstein, the longstanding master of the essay, who shows here his remarkable talent for fiction.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.