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5.0 out of 5 stars Epstein at his very best
What's not to love?? Humor, wit, pathos. Epstein delivers. The wonderfully written short stories are as relevant to the human conditon as they are to the Chicago Jewish experience.
If you liked the Goldin Boys, you will definitely like this one.
Published on Oct. 28 2003

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2.0 out of 5 stars Bellow it's not
Fiction about old Jewish guys in Chicago is Saul Bellow territory, and to say that Joseph Epstein isn't Saul Bellow isn't fair criticism, because who is? But these stories don't do much for me. The characters are broad stereotypes, and the entire effect is labored -- too self-consciously clever.
But what really annoyed me was the constant name and place dropping,...
Published on Aug. 25 2003


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5.0 out of 5 stars Epstein at his very best, Oct. 28 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
What's not to love?? Humor, wit, pathos. Epstein delivers. The wonderfully written short stories are as relevant to the human conditon as they are to the Chicago Jewish experience.
If you liked the Goldin Boys, you will definitely like this one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Small Stories, Almost, Oct. 18 2003
By 
Louis N. Gruber "Author of Jay" (Lexington, SC United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
The title was in poor enough taste to draw my attention. The writing quickly drew me in. And once drawn in, I found it hard to put this book down. What is it? A collection of dark, brooding stories about old guys (mostly) facing loss, disillusionment and despair. Most of these guys have never had a meaningful long-term relationship. If they married, it didn't work out. If they had children, they typically abandoned them. If they did have good marriages, they lost them.
Most of the characters are old or aging men, most of the action takes place in Chicago. Most are Jewish, in a Seinfeldian, cultural sense, and have little relationship to Judaism, the religion. They are often uncomfortable with or embarrassed by their Jewish origins. Still, they display that typical Jewish penchant for ruminating, philosophizing, wondering who they really are.
Author Joseph Epstein is an extremely talented writer. He does a great job with these stories, injecting bits of manic humor into these otherwise gloomy tales. Still, there is something troubling about the collection, something that leaves--well--a certain unpleasant aftertaste. The stories that start out with so much punch, that are so entertaining, almost always seem to end with a whimper, with nothing learned, nothing gained, nothing to hope for. Sometimes those endings seemed contrived, as though the author simply didn't know how to end the story.
Still, even with its shortcomings, this is a most entertaining collection, and I can certainly recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Like The Title--Distatseful, Aug. 28 2003
By 
DS (Manhattan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
A small work of distasteful stories that exploits the underbelly of human experience. This is a book for the dispirited and those without hope. It is no more than a breadcrumb trail of dispair masquerading as nourishment--it substitutes irony for redemption, craft for insight. The title tells it all-small stories of a self-hating author. If you want to be depressed and pretend you are thinking, better get a mediocre bottle of scotch and smack it a against your head instead of spending time with this little book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Bellow it's not, Aug. 25 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
Fiction about old Jewish guys in Chicago is Saul Bellow territory, and to say that Joseph Epstein isn't Saul Bellow isn't fair criticism, because who is? But these stories don't do much for me. The characters are broad stereotypes, and the entire effect is labored -- too self-consciously clever.
But what really annoyed me was the constant name and place dropping, and meaningless detail. I live in Evanston, just like Prof. Epstein, but knowing that the retired European lit professor at Northwestern in the first story bought a cake for his sister at Tag's Bakery on Central Street, instead of, say, Judy's Bakery on Main, doesn't do much to establish atmosphere (especially for readers who aren't familiar with Evanston bakeries) or define his character, and of course adds nothing to the plot. Neither, for that matter, does Epstein's announcement that the man is gay, or at least was when he was young enough to have any kind of sex at all. The fact doesn't explain anything the character does, or thinks, or how others respond to him. It's just a trait that Epstein sticks on his character, coming up with a list that makes him seem distinctive (he's not just a Viennese Intellectual Holocaust Survivor; he's a Gay Viennese Intellectual Holocaust Survivor!)-- but in short fiction, especially, characters are defined by what they do or say, not by where the author tells us he bought dessert, or who the author tells us he used to have sex with.
I have the same complaint about the 38-year-old Catholic female lawyer who falls in love with the 57-year-old Jewish drycleaner. Leaving aside the implausibility of the lady's proffered explanation, which is that he's a nice guy and there aren't many of them out there (this may be so, but I still haven't noticed a whole bunch of talented and attractive women marrying balding old nebbishes who are way below them on the educational and job status scale), Epstein makes a point of telling us that she works a Sidley & Austin, an actual big downtown Chicago firm. Oh, THAT explains it. If she had worked at McDermott Will & Emery, who knows how things might have worked out.
The story that made me stop reading was the fourth, which features a stereotypical AK handball player (at the Bernard Horwich JCC, we are told unnecessarily) who reconsiders his decision not to have bypass surgery when he realizes that his scrawny, bedwetting eight-year-old grandson, whom our hero's nogoodnik son abandoned, might benefit from having his grandfather around. Leaving aside the question of why the old man didn't realize this about six years earlier, when Epstein tells us the son decamped for Seattle, and start spending more time with the boy then, this is sappy enough to be an episode of Touched By An Angel. The story ends with our crabby but lovable old guy eating pastrami at Manny's, another bit of superfluous local color. Also, why anyone, let alone a man who makes his living selling scales to delis, as we are told this guy does (we are even told the name of the scale company), would drive from Rogers Park to Roosevelt Road to eat at that overhyped dump is beyond me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned stories of high quality, Aug. 23 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
Epstein's work is old-fashioned in the best sense of the term. There is no "writers' school" trendiness here. Each story packs in a lifetime of detail about one or more characters, with plots that dwell on similar themes: Jews growing up in Chicago, illness and death, family tensions, the debt to high culture. On the surface this may seem repetitious, but it never is. Indeed, the literary cohesion of the stories is one of the charms of this collection -- it is not all over the place. Curiously, it reminds me in some ways of the stories of Louis Auchincloss; even though their two ethnic milieus are far apart, both writers share a profound sense of the moral dimension of life. This moving work is sensitive, humorous, gripping. In 340 pages we get the stuff of twenty novels, all propelled by a power of description that is continuously engrossing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Epstein's Collection is indeed fabulous..., Aug. 15 2003
By 
Robert Wellen (CHICAGO, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
How I Spent my Summer Vacation...well, at the top of the list will be reading this fine collection of short stories, almost all of which take place in Chicago. Indeed, I grew up next door to a building in which one of the characters lived. I was moved by this collection of stories about mostly middle and late aged Jews. I'm much younger then the subjects of this stories, but I was moved anyway. It is beautiful collection about religion, love, and a person's place in the world. It is a collection that I won't soon forget. Kudos to Epstein for getting the small Chicago details right--it just makes the stories richer. I've already lent this book out--I may never see it again! I loved it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chekhov in Chicago, July 21 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Fabulous Small Jews (Hardcover)
I have enjoyed reading Joseph Epstein's essays, and there are two kinds that I especially admire. The first are the personal essays that are autobiographical and often very funny, and the second are the literary essays that are rather dark and certainly sobering. In these stories Epstein manages to combine elements of both the funny and the dark in a way that resembles Chekhov, without, obviously, rising quite to that level. He does, however, rise well above the many recent American short stories that seem to present little more than puzzling ephipanies. Instead he describes, with considerable respect, characters from ordinary bourgeois life in Chicago, and he actually tells stories about their lives. That alone is practically heroic, and deserves praise.
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Fabulous Small Jews by Joseph Epstein (Hardcover - July 7 2003)
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