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*Starred Review* Epstein writes nonfiction of stinging clarity, thrust, and wit, while his fiction tends to be at once funny, tender, and trenchant. But in his newest short story collection, Epstein is at his skewering best, audaciously combining his incisive take on Jewish life in Chicago with acerbic views of academia and, most arrestingly, the writing life. The title's nod to T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a tip-off, even though the story itself, a knockout, is about a doctor who lost his beloved wife and is now being aggressively courted by an extremely wealthy widow. Further piquant inquiries into what truly matters in life follow as Epstein's skeptical characters weigh art and money, integrity and fame, love and ambition. He considers the arrogance and sacrifice of writers in stories of spiky complexity and outrageous satire, including My Brother Eli, which chronicles the shenanigans of a Saul Bellowesque figure, and Beyond the Pale, a tale of an elderly Yiddish writer, his tenacious wife, and a young, railroaded translator. As cutting as his stories of the literary world are, Epstein is also a master at capturing the happenstance of urban life and at dramatizing the bewildering fact that we understand so little about each other. Perfectly executed, bold, and unforgettable.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Epstein (Fabulous Small Jews) delivers a faulty collection of 14 relentlessly similar, uninspired tales. Mostly about Chicago Jews-particularly male intellectual Chicago Jews-these stories meditate on the perceived faults of others while trumpeting the achievements of the narrators (Yale and comfortable tenure appear more than once). This restrictive formula grows old fast, as do the dismissive and stereotypical treatment secondary characters get: an Irish-American who reeks of beer, a feminist who talks "exclusively about herself and the difficulty of her adolescent menstrual cycles," and Mexican teenagers who "walked by in baggy jeans low on the hips, unlaced gym shoes, and baseball caps worn backwards." While this could be read as humor, stock characters don't leave much room for introspection, development, or nuance. The contrived prose and characters reveal Epstein, a successful nonfiction writer, to be out of his element. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved