New Englander

Published February 14, 2012

Geographically, the eight short stories that comprise Nathan Englander’s playful but never placating new collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Knopf) take place in either the U.S. or Israel. But emotionally, they all exist in the even more fraught, unstable region of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with long-term memory. While so much of today’s Jewish-American fiction revolves around the inheritance of loss and the ancestral need to remember, Englander brilliantly, often hilariously, and occasionally quite jarringly tackles the very nature of memory itself, how extreme the difference can be between generations, and what exactly one owes one’s forbearers when it comes to a heritage of pain and dislocation. in these pages, elderly Jewish campers go on a tragicomic Nazi hunt in the Berkshires, a Florida couple is visited by Orthodox friends and gets wildly stoned, and a gang of suburban kids refashions itself into a commando unit against a Gentile bully. Here history repeats, is recursive on smaller stages, comes back to haunt, and mostly won’t let anyone get away without a hard lesson in faith-based human affairs.