- Nothing goes right for Calman; his kid is a brat, Clara treats him like shit. Finally he packs up and leaves and heads off to live in piety with Jochanan.
- Clara hooks up with Lipkin, one of Ezriel’s buddies, and gets pregnant by him. He wants nothing to do with Clara. Her father upbraids her, but there’s nothing he can do; Calman signed over his business affairs to his son-in-law Joel.
- Chapter 3 features lots of young people in conversation about the future, politics and religion. Ezriel is the focal point–strange how most of the Jacoby daughters are now minor characters compared to their husbands, but still they loom large, especially Miraim who remains outcast.
- Singer’s good with the shift in perspective of the young. The prose is more lively and deals with harsh matters harshly, not the calm tones of Calman when he was on the upswing.
- 50 pages left
- Calman’s wife Zelda dies, his daughters have all moved out and on
- Clara, daughter of one of Calman’s competitors, makes a flirty play for Calman.
- Miriam’s eloping with Lucian shames Calman, the town starts gossiping about him.
- Felicia, the Count’s daughter, marries a doctor
- Calman and Clara marry in a weird ceremony in Warsaw
- big hubub when the rabbi dies; Jochanan gets the gig after playing that he didn’t want it.
- Calman’s blown away by his new wife’s freewheeling nature, that she dances with other men, that she’s about as pious as a prostitute.
- a multi-character two-family saga, principally that of Calman Jacoby and his 4 daughters
- 1863 Poland, a Polish uprising against Russia has been crushed.
- Jews now admitted into cities; Calman takes over lease of a manor that belonged to the Count
- The Count was sent to Siberia; his son was one of the failed revolutionaries, now in hiding
- Miriam is best-realized daughter; falls in love with the Count’s son and elopes to Paris
- Other daughters marry Jews; Ezriel gets enlightenment bug, likes secular books, goes to Warsaw to study
- lots of good description of nature and business and celebrations. And food
- Lots of silly jokes, good with minor details of minor characters (drivers, cooks, maids)
- a reader is always aware of non-Jews discussing/observing Jews. Not heavy-handed, more matter-of-fact
Digging Singer’s The Magician of Lublin, a precursor to his Enemies, A Love Story. Magician is more folksy, more humane so far; it takes place in Poland before the wars, and Yasha seems less conflicted than Herman Broder.
Singer is a natural writer, and his prose never feels forced or put-on. He breaks a bunch of silly narrative “rules” that bad writers tend to adhere to, he is never boring, his sentences are never dull. Small and fleeting characters are robust; Singer gives them interesting things to say and do.
One hears today of novels “about memory” or “of memory” and whenever I hear a contemporary American novelist talk about memory I look for the nearest open window to leap from. Nostalgia is an artist’s curse, and yet many middle-aged novelists wallow in it, name dropping events and trends and fashion and music in simple stories that go nowhere and move nobody.
Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies, A Love Story is a novel of memory, of the many memories of a single man, an inveterate liar and crafty survivor named Herman Broder, late of Poland, currently of Coney Island. He’s a hustler who earns his living ghostwriting for a lazy rabbi, and his mind wanders between the big ideas of philosophers he has read or misread, and a fear of impending doom, that Nazis might be around every corner, waiting to do to him in Americawhat they couldn’t do to him in Europe.
Herman Broder has three real world problems, his three wives. Yadwiga is a dim peasant from Poland—she hid Herman from the Nazis, they became lovers and moved to America, but she is a “right shoe left foot” simpleton. Masha, Herman’s mistress, is wild and beautiful, satisfying Herman’s primitive urges like no other—but Masha has issues with herself, her mother, God, and more than a few men in her past. Then there is Tamara, Herman’s dead wife, mother of his two sons, all killed by the Nazis—but Tamara didn’t die, and now she is in New York, seeking Herman, and perhaps some of the back and forth arguments that made her and Herman an intellectual match.
It is difficult to separate the plot from the prose in Enemies, A Love Story but they both work well, as Herman is engaged in a fight-or-flee staring match with upheaval—he worries that his lies will be found out, and of course they are, but the reactions aren’t what a reader expects; to Singer’s credit no conflict is resolved easily.
One can read a good novel like Enemies, A Love Story many ways; it occurred to me late last night that it is a near perfect thriller parody, a dumb Lee Child novel transformed into a great work of art. It is a novel of constant action and activity, and it allows Herman and a reader little rest. It is also a tough hilarious comedy.