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And yet Schiff’s voice is a singular force onto its own.
Recently, she sat down with me at a Brooklyn coffee house to discuss lox, alienation, ironic Christmas trees, and other pressing concerns of the Jewish people. I had a thesis in graduate school that was about a third of the length of the book, so I knew that I had a base. When I was in my 20s, my roommate and I had an apartment that looked like the inside of Urban Outfitters; it was very decorated with lanterns and we had a lot of Christmas lights up and then we thought—she was Jewish too—it would be fun to decorate a tree.
You can’t just use what we already know; you have to push it further if you are going to write about the experience.” In the final story, “Write What you Know,” the meta-fiction unfolds as a litany. will get a tiny Christmas tree with irony, or a bigger Christmas tree if they are more serious about assimilating and less serious about irony.” What were you? Labeling can be limiting and marginalizing and pigeonholing. The part of Judaism I’m most proud of is the literary part. So to be included among them—as long as that is not all I am—that is a club I want to be a member of.
I’d be happier to be pigeonholed as a Jewish writer than I would be a Jewish person. But I want to say something about alienation for a second. If I think a line isn’t funny enough or the line doesn’t sound good enough, I’ll bold it in the text to return to later.
If your book were to have a theme song, what would it be? Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.
To me, the book shoots from the hip of an irreverent secular Jewish feminist sensibility that is particularly exciting because I have never seen it done quite like this. I didn’t notice I was Jewish growing up because I lived on Long Island and everyone was Jewish. And then through writing: the narrators dating guys who weren’t Jewish—that would come up. When I was dating non-Jewish guys in real life, I didn’t know I cared. Jews are afraid of their parents.” We’re a story, originally I had, “There are bagels! A hundred years ago when I was in grad school, I did a nonfiction thesis on contemporary Jewish writers where I interviewed all these authors about what it means to be a Jewish American writer today and how they feel about the classification.
There’s some guilt about it, or something, that was coming up in the writing. I had crushes on Jewish guys, but they wouldn’t date me so I always wound up dating guys who looked Jewish but who were Catholic. ” and I had a writing teacher tell me, “You have to do better than bagels if you are going to write about Jewish things. Nathan Englander rebuked this question, and responded to it by pulling into a fast food drive-through and ordering some , I understand the criticism. And I would say, in your work, while it’s certainly not remotely the only thing, you are clearly working in some of the classic Jewish tropes: guilt, sex, alienation.
I feel kind of mixed about Judaism, but to be a Jewish writer, that’s awesome. The narrator in “Another Cake” is actually alienated from the Jewish ritual. What is humor but a way of dealing with pain and alienation and sorrow? Jews, through comedy and literature, have given voice to that alienation. I have to have a sense of the absurdity in order to get to the serious and sadness.
Although I once broke up with someone because he didn’t think things were absurd enough.
OK, so now I want to do a sort of Jewish Proust questionnaire. But she would have been so happy that you were eating well! To win a free copy of Rebecca’s book, enter below by next Monday, May 16th. a Rafflecopter giveaway The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author.
We’re also giving away a free copy of her book–see details at the end of the interview. The first story I wrote that I knew was at a different level was “Another Cake.” That is the most Jewish story in the book and it was a breakthrough for me. So she got a tiny 10-dollar Charlie Brown tree and brought it home on the subway and we had this inspiration. We looked around and there was a postcard of Woody Allen on the bulletin board, and we both said, “He’s going on the top of the tree.” So that was my first ironic tree.
The breakthrough moment I even know—the narrator is trying to find a rabbi to officiate the funeral (a prickly thing, because her father had decided he wanted to be cremated) and there is a line, “No rabbi would touch it.” Although many of your stories are not overtly Jewish, the voice throughout feels intrinsically Jewish in a similar (but different) way as “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are Jewish without announcing it. Writing makes me realize that I’m Jewish in a way that living doesn’t. When I entered the world or went to college (still a ton of Jews there), I started to notice we had some things in common: We talked over each other, we argued, whatever it was, that hyper-verbal thing. Someone once said to me, “Catholics are afraid of God. And I’ve had one almost every year since—sometimes I forget to get it, and sometimes I have a Christmas Eve party for Jews and non-Jews who haven’t gone home. I think Christmas is one of the best Jewish holidays, because you are free.
With her startling debut collection, “The Bed Moved,” Jewish author Rebecca Schiff announces herself as one of the most refreshing and powerful new voices in literature.
Hilarious, intelligent, deeply and darkly poignant, her stories are being likened to the work of Nabokov and Lorrie Moore.