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From My Bookshelf: ASK FOR A CONVERTIBLE, by Danit Brown

Over the past week or so I’ve had the pleasure of reading Danit Brown’s new book of connected short stories, Ask for a Convertible. This is a new twist on Jewish-American writing, with most of the stories focused on a Jewish girl–born in Israel to an American father and an Israeli mother–who moves to Michigan in the early 1980s with her parents. (The character is then 12 years old, which makes her my more-or-less contemporary, and heightens my appreciation for the now quasi-historical details appearing through the work.)

At some moments the book made me laugh out loud: “In the city phone book–what luck–the other Marvin Greenberg had no problem with listing his full name: Marvin Alvin Greenberg, as if Marvin and Greenberg together didn’t already invoke massive amounts of nostril hair, golf pants, and game after game of shuffleboard.” At others, especially with some of the depictions of Israel (though it’s important to remember that when the Israeli-born protagonist returns to her birthplace in her twenties it’s not exactly a happy homecoming; the unappealing way the setting comes across is surely colored by the unhappy consciousness through which it is filtered), I found myself–what’s the right word–disillusioned? See, for instance, this paragraph:

“In Tel Aviv, where Osnat lived, there was a McDonald’s on every other block, and a Dunkin’ Donuts near Rabin Square, and still everything felt to Osnat as if had been shifted a little–a smaller, dirtier, almost-America–as if someone had gone through her house and rearranged the furniture and all the closets so that she couldn’t find her shoes….When guys excused themselves and didn’t close the bathroom door behind them, Osnat gave them the benefit of the doubt: maybe it was a cultural difference. When they walked down the street, she tried not to stare if they stopped to urinate against trees and parked cars. One time, she saw a man peeing against the wall of a gas station, ten meters away from a restroom. Now, everywhere she went with Jeannie, the two of them stumbled onto naked men, sunbathers who decided to flip over right as they walked by, boys skinny-dipping at the beach. The bus stops reeked of urine.”

The book pulled me in immediately, and the crackling liveliness of the early stories kept me going even when I began to wonder how one or another story was going to end up “connected” with the others and, yes, began to wonder if the collection might have been stronger if two or three of the pieces had been left out. But that minor kvetching aside, I found this book an impressive achievement, one that makes me look forward, very much, to seeing what its author will do next.

You can preview Ask for a Convertible by reading two of its stories, “Hands Across America” (yes, THAT Hands Across America) and “The Dangers of Salmonella,” on Nextbook.org.

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