In her critically acclaimed debut story collection, Elisa Albert boldly illuminates an original cross section of disaffected young Jews. With wit, compassion, and a decidedly iconoclastic twenty-first-century attitude, in prose that is by turns hilarious and harrowing, Albert has created characters searching for acceptance, a happier view of the past, and above all the possibility of a future.
Holidays, family gatherings, and rites of passage provide the backdrop for these ten provocative stories. From the death of a friendship in "So Long" to a sexually frustrated young mother's regression to bat mitzvah -- aged antics in "Everything But," and culminating with the powerful and uproariously apropos finale of "Etta or Bessie or Dora or Rose," How This Night Is Different will excite, charm, and profoundly resonate with anyone who's ever felt ambivalent about his or her faith, culture, or place in the world.
Elisa Albert's How This Night Is Different is a hilariously irreverent collection of short stories that will leave readers longing for more from this talented newcomer. While some might find the self-deprecation off-putting at times (one of the stories features a thirtysomething woman who brings her non-Jewish boyfriend home for Passover and is rewarded with a raging yeast infection), Albert is perceptive enough to see beyond the stereotype of the self- hating Jew and shed real light on the familial and personal conflicts that affect most young adults, regardless of religion.
While each of the ten stories is impressive, a few are notable standouts. "The Living" tells the story of Shayna Marlowitz, a high school student who travels to Poland to visit the concentration camps as part of the Northeastern "We Are The Living!" delegation. While most of the other kids spend the time hooking up and trading velour jumpsuits, Shayna is consumed with producing a journal to rival that of her brother Max, who came back from the same trip years earlier with the "implication that said life had begun in Poland, that he knew secret things, the knowledge of which imbued him with special powers, a special place in the world." In "Everything But," Erin accompanies her narcissistic husband Alex to his niece's Bat Mitzvah, and spends half the party in the bathroom, smoking a joint with the "Cool Kids." The collection culminates in an extraordinary fan/love letter by the author herself to Philip Roth, in which she decides the only way to "produce something literary and lasting" is to bear his child.
How This Night Is Different is hardly ever politically correct, and might even be offensive to some, but that doesn't change the fact that Albert is an astute and intuitive social commentator, not to mention a riot to read. Those who are willing to throw piety to the wind will be rewarded with an exhilarating ride. --Gisele Toueg