by Tessa Bryant
October 29th, 2015
At the outset, a book entitled Jewish Noir will, without doubt, elicit a strong response. For me, that response was immediate laughter and intrigue. I had a thousand questions at once: What is Jewish noir? How is it different than other noir? Do the murderers all wear yarmulkes? Are there rabbis involved? Will the mothers help bury the bodies? Will there be latkes at the end?
My questions were, admittedly, culturally insensitive and cliché. However, the book’s skilled editor and contributor, Kenneth Wishnia, validates those questions within the first pages of his introduction. Wishnia carefully examines the myriad ways in which the Jewish identity is closely related to the literary identity of noir. After reading the introduction, I almost felt silly for questioning the concept in the first place. The Jewish voice can—and, after reading this excellent anthology, I believe should—be present in the noir literary community, and to great success.
Each piece in this anthology has a personality all of its own. There are hard-boiled lawyers and caseworkers, upper class folks in witness protection, neo-Nazis, southerners, Russians, and an English professor; this anthology finds a place in noir for every reader. The pieces work together to a common effect and understanding, yet no two stories blend together or fade into the background. Some writers make the noir world their playground, turning the go-to tropes on their heads, while others allow the genre and the subject to speak for themselves. Wishnia presents a celebratory work that is approachable, original, and, above all, a blast to read.
I could use this platform to praise my favorite stories in the anthology, but to do so would be a disservice to the authors included, all of whom are top-notch at their craft (though, I’ll note here that the editor’s contribution and the first-ever English translation of Yente Serdatsky’s A Simkhe certainly do not disappoint). I’ll let it suffice to say that I laughed, my heart raced, I sat on the edge of my seat, and I’ve marketed the book to all my coworkers.
Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book. Check your expectations at the front cover; they’re bound to be exceeded.
Tessa Bryant is a graduate of the Departments of Theatre and English at Lipscomb University. She is a writer, director, administrator, and researcher of the performing and fine arts, and works and guest lectures at Lipscomb University. She is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.
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