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.
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.
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!