Eileen Pollack reads from her short story, "The Bris" / photo taken by Rachel Mauro
The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival is mere days away from finishing its run, but I can finally say that I attended a few events! A small few (or rather, two,) but both had to do with fiction, so they made me happy. 😀
The two authors whom I sat in on, Elisa Albert and Eileen Pollack, came from different sides of the fiction spectrum—Albert was reading from her debut novel, “The Life of Dahlia,” while Pollack, a veteran, shared from her short story, “The Bris,” part of the anthology, “In the Mouth.” But both women confront the idea of mortality in the family—using a mix of humor and heart-warming realism to spin their stories.
I particularly wanted to hear Elisa Albert speak on Sunday afternoon because she is editor to two of my favorite Jewish websites—Nextbook and Jewcy.com. At 30-years-old, Albert is already accomplished in life with this and a book of short stories under her belt, quite unlike the protagonist of her novel, just a year younger, whose life seems to begin when she is diagnosed with brain cancer.
Elisa Albert reads from her debut novel, "The Book of Dahlia" / photo taken by Rachel Mauro
After reading us the first chapter, Albert explained that she wanted to analyze the “death culture” of self-help books, which, especially with cancer, seem to play “blame the victim.” They assert that if you have a good enough attitude in life, you can beat the disease, she said.
Albert, who lost a positive-attitude brother to cancer, decided to attack the problem from the opposite end—enter Dahlia, a 29-year-old pot-smoking couch potato who can’t get over her familial issues long enough to actually procure a job or income of her own. Her story doesn’t end tied up with a neat little bow of lessons learned—instead, Albert takes a grittier approach, which leaves critics (and many in the room) applauding her realism and originality.
Eileen Pollack came to us on Monday evening with short stories, a novel, and creative nonfiction under her belt.
She read from two sections of “The Bris,” which has been selected for “The Best American Short Stories 2008.” She described the story as a “fairy tale”—a middle-aged man must seek out three Jews to ask an unusual favor—to perform a bris on his dying father. Several of Pollack’s other stories deal with the relationships between senior fathers and their daughters but in this case, she thought that a son would be the better alternative. 😛
I left these two events feeling invigorated as a female, Jewish fiction writer myself. Thank you to these and other authors at the festival for sharing a bit of their creative processes. I look forward to reading their works, and in attending the literary festival next year. Kudos to all of the staff and volunteers at the DCJCC!