Monday, September 29, 2008
by Eric Wasserman
Cervena Barva Press, Softbound, $7, Copyright © 2008 by Eric Matthew Wasserman
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
When I first started reading Eric Wasserman’s chapbook, actually the first chapter of his novel Celluloid Strangers, I was a bit skeptical. The beginning was a bit slow, takes place in 1948, has a Jewish character who has emigrated from Dorchester to California and went to law school at night.
Where is this going I asked myself and the next dozen pages let’s me know in no uncertain terms (I think) where this is headed. Since it is the first chapter, it’s hard to really know, but I want to know and hopefully you will want to know as well.
The protagonist, Morris Gandelman Adams has taken his wife’s surname to hide his Jewish identity. As he sits by his swimming pool “clear, like recently cleaned coffee table glass” he wonders why a brother he has not seen in ten years suddenly calls him and both Morris and the reader soon find out. The first chapter reminds me of Elmore Leonard if Leonard wrote a Jewish thriller, which is where this novel is probably heading.
Despite a few questionable facts: were there power lawnmowers in 1948?
And Philco radios during World War II. Or did local radio spend a lot of time on UCLA basketball? But aside from these minor questions, the writing is crisp, moves along and creates as many questions as it answers, all in 19 pages!
If this is headed in the Jewish gangster story direction, it is doing a good job, may be a bit like Ted Gray’s The Hoods, a 1950s novel which followed friends and brothers from childhood to adulthood, first as punks, then petty criminals and finally to their gangster status. In this story the brothers are already adults and so far only one brother is an admitted criminal.
I have only read one chapter of the novel in this Cervena Barva chapbook, which, incidentally, won the 2007 Cervena Barva Press Fiction Chapbook Prize. The press is edited by Gloria Mindock who puts out quality fiction and poetry and having read a few of her productions, this one reads like another success for her – and for Eric Wasserman who has a collection of short fiction and is Professor English at the University of Akron, where he also teaches in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program.