Of course, this is not the first time this has happened.
The writer's name is Nathan Englander. He is widely praised in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/nathan-englanders-new-collection.html?nl=books&emc=booksupdateema2
And he has his own page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_tc_2_0?rh=i%3Astripbooks%2Ck%3ANathan+Englander&keywords=Nathan+Englander&ie=UTF8&qid=1329527210&sr=1-2-ent&field-contributor_id=B001IGFL5O
I managed to struggle through one story, "The Twenty-seventh Man," the first one in a collection called "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges."
This story is about 27 Jewish writers who are rounded up by Stalin in the 1940s and taken to a prison to be held overnight and then shot to death the next morning. The story is tedious and long and predictable and drawn out and boring. Basically, it's a shaggy-dog story. There are no suprises here, no insights into human nature.
The only thing I can figure out is that those critics who rave about Englander's work are responding to the theme, the message, rather than the experience of reading. They are applauding a sermon.
Yes, it is terrible that these Jews are rounded up to be killed. But we know this already. We know there have been atrocities against the Jews, among many other peoples, over the centuries. We don't have to be told, again, that these atrocities are bad.
There is an old rule about writing: Tell them something new, that they don't already know, or tell them something old in a new way.
This story is neither one. It's something old, that we already know, told in an old way.
I don't think this is a matter of taste. I think it's a matter of applauding the sermon. But a work of art should be more than a sermon. It should be better than that. It should be more complex, more aesthetic in nature, more ambiguous, not just a message. It should have elements of poetry, meanings that are not easy to define.
This story is overwhelmed by its meaning. The message outweighs the art. It is too ponderous and heavy and dull to be a work of art.
Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle