For Sharon, being on the dole raised basic issues of duty, honor, and shame. It had been hard to collect rent that she knew derived from disability checks, paid, in the end, by hardworking taxpayers like her. “I pay $9,000 in taxes every year and we get nothing for it,” she said. Like others I interviewed, she felt that the federal government—especially under President Obama—was bringing down the hardworking rich and struggling middle while lifting the idle poor. She’d seen it firsthand and it felt unfair.
His stories fill out these guiding themes, or exploit situations suggested by them, in dozens of different ways, but they give freer play to his invention than the novels. At their best, they must be among the most entertaining pieces extant. Each is a unique exercise in tone, focus, style, form, as well as an unforgettable re-creation of characters and life. A comic note, a sort of savage enjoyment that scarcely appears in the novels, more or less prevails, though it is weirdly blended with pathos, simplicity, idyllic piety, horror. There is some connection here, in the actual intensity of the performance, and the impartial joy in the face of everything, with traditional Hasidic fervor. In substance, these stories recapitulate the ideas and materials of Jewish tradition. Intellectually their roots run into the high, conservative wisdom of the old Jewish sages. Yet it is only a slight thing that prevents many of them from being folk-tales, or even old wives’ tales, narrated by a virtuoso. They all have the swift, living voice of the oral style. Some of them are very near a bare, point-blank, life-size poetry that hardly exists in English. “The Black Wedding,” in the volume titled The Spinoza of Market Street , is a more alive, more ferocious piece of poetic imagination than any living poet I can think of would be likely to get near. Likewise “The Fast,” and “Blood,” in Short Friday . The stories often turn on almost occult insights—as the connection between blood-lust and sexual lust, in “Blood.” It is his intimacy with this dimension of things that carry Singer beyond any easy comparison. Stories that are deadpan jokes, like “Jachid and Jechidah,” or fantasies, like Shiddah and Kuziba, are not only brilliantly done, but are also moral/ theological fables of great force, and direct outriders of Singer’s main preoccupations. No psychological terminology or current literary method has succeeded in rendering such a profound, unified and fully apprehended account of the Divine, the infernal, and the suffering space of self-determination between, all so convincingly interconnected, and fascinatingly peopled. But it is in the plain, realistic tales, like “Under The Knife” in Short Friday , that we can isolate his decisive virtue: whatever region his writing inhabits, it is blazing with life and actuality. His powerful, wise, deep, full-face paragraphs make almost every other modern fiction seem by comparison labored, shallow, overloaded with alien and undigested junk, too fancy, fuddled, not quite squared up to life.