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February 14, 2005

Fine Literature, Russian Beer: I'm Set

by Ron Hogan

I seem to be spending more time than usual at KGB Bar lately. It all started last Wednesday, when I went to see Pearl Abraham read from her latest novel, The Seventh Beggar, as part of the bar's monthly "Novel Jews" night, organized by the arts section of the Forward. Her novel takes its inspiration from an unfinished tale by the 19th-century Hasidic guru Nachman of Bratslav; I'm enjoying the early chapters and, after having read Dinitia Smith's NYT profile, looking forward to its eventual foray into science fiction territory when an artificial intelligence researcher starts dwelling upon robot's rights. (As Beatrice readers have discovered, I'm all about the appearance of science fiction tropes in literary fiction...) She was joined by Steve Stern, who read from The Angel of Forgetfulness, which has its own connections to Nachman and unfinished tales; the chapter he read, in which a young Forward copyeditor at the turn of the 20th century tries to impress a shop clerk with the story he's writing, was very funny, and I'm looking forward to finding some time to learn how it ends.

Saturday night I went out on the advice of Richard Eoin Nash of Soft Skull Press, to hear one of his authors, Lydia Millet, read from Everyone's Pretty, a multi-voiced tale in the vein of Nathanael West or Bruce Wagner inspired, so I'm told, by Millet's experiences working for Larry Flynt Publications. Amazingly, she's going to follow this up with an even huger novel this summer: Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, which catapults J. Robert Oppenheimer and two other atomic scientists into present-day America, where they become anti-nuclear activists.

Finally, last night, I was eager to see Jean Hanff Korelitz read from The White Rose, a retelling of Der Rosenkavalier set in contemporary Manhattan with an all-Jewish cast--which, she quipped, would probably have thrilled Strauss no end. She read a flashback chapter which detailed an early meeting between Marian, a middle-aged history professor, and Oliver, the twentysomething florist (and son of one of her oldest friends) with whom she emarks on a romantic affair. It was a captivating passage, one which showed Korelitz's attention to subtle, telling moments, and I've moved the novel to the top of my reading pile. (And, no, you don't need to know opera for it to work.) Before she read, Kyle Smith read portions of a chapter from Love Monkey, an anti-romantic comedy of sorts narrated by a New York City bachelor with a steady stream of wisecracks, like Philip Marlowe but with live bodies instead of corpses. (You may recall that Laura Miller declared Love Monkey dead in the water last spring; Smith may have the last laugh, as he let us know that he's just signed a development deal to turn the novel into a sitcom starring Tom Cavanagh, formerly TV's Ed.

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