x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: a sinister undertow

The power of the tale is in the gradual twisting from the banal, to the comic, to something much darker.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander

This is not a book of stories to pick up if you're in need of something uplifting. The title is an allusion to Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and the setting for this collection's title story is the same - two couples sitting round a kitchen table.

In it the couples- one Hasidic, one secular - play the Anne Frank game, postulating who would hide who in the event of another Holocaust. That this should have devastating results is predictable but the skill of the writing and the power of the tale is in the gradual twisting from the banal, to the comic, to something much darker.

This sinister undertow informs pretty all of the stories. From How We Avenged the Blums, a story of Long Island boys dealings with an anti-semitic bully, to Peep Show, a less than successful depiction of a businessman wrestling with his guilty conscience, the reader is never allowed to forget that humans are frail and vulnerable to fear and that with it comes violence and revenge.