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November 10, 2010

Loving Leonard

I can't remember who said I had to read Leonard Michaels. Maybe it was just an insistent reviewer. But I herewith pass along the insistence.

An American fiction writer, Michaels was born in 1933 and died in 2003. His "The Collected Stories" came out a few years ago. Though, like Cheever, he did write a couple of novels, he seems to have been a story guy through and through.

The early examples are raw and violent, basically Philip Roth without the politeness. I sampled these first and felt decidedly alien to the fuss. So I moved on to a few pieces in the middle of the volume. These had a finer finish but still seemed self-consciously edgy. How Michaels got to the Nachman stories of his final years I do not know, but if it took everything that went before, I'll stand up for the lot.

The central figure in these stories, Raphael Nachman, is a mathematician who may qualify as one of our great American solitaries. Altogether, there are seven Nachman stories, concluding with the exquisite "Cryptology," and they are enough, in my book, to loft Michaels into the short-story pantheon. You must, I am saying, read the Nachman stories.

"Between a mistake and madness, there was a nourishing relationship," Nachman observes at one point with uncanny perfection. But you won't know how uncanny, or how much perfection, unless you read the story wrapped masterfully around. Besides, any writer who can drop the word "rictus" into a sentence with such precision as occurs in "Cryptology" gets my vote. Send this guy to the majors.

November 10, 2010 12:40 PM | | Comments (1)


My new favorite line in literature, "Their conjugal solidarity was daunting."

Way up there with "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

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