Jon Papernick, The Ascent of Eli Israel & Other Stories, 6/11/09

The Ascent of Eli Israel Links:

New York Times Review

Papernick’s blog

Reviews on Amazon

Eleven of us met to talk about Jon Papernick’s unsettling collection of short stories.  Several noted the author’s powerful and unique writing style; just about everyone experienced a sense of hopelessness and distress while reading about the characters.  Such darkness isn’t surprising considering that all of the tales take place in Israel, the focus of a great deal of distressing and seemingly hopeless news stories over the years. However DJ, DS & JS were frustrated with the unrelentingly disturbing tone of Papernick’s stories, longing for acknowledgment of the great number of thoughtful Israelis that don’t engage in extreme and bizarre behavior.

Papernick’s stories spurred lively discussion about and tales of members’ travels in Israel.  DJ told us about the dramatic differences in her experiences walking through Jerusalem, depending on her company – Jewish, Arab, or walking solo.  BC reviewed the history of the creation of the state of Israel, pointing out the colonialism, war, and displacement of peoples that have contributed to the apparently unresolvable conflict over the land that exists today.  He felt the stories would be more meaningful to those who are familiar with the history of the Middle East.

This reader was stunned by the story of “An Unwelcome Guest.” A young Jewish settler plays a deadly game of backgammon with an old Arab who mysteriously appears in his kitchen late at night with family in tow.  JW felt this story should be required reading at the United Nations.

Those who wished for more hope and wit in the tales will be interested to know that Papernick’s latest work is full of humor. A Waltham resident, Papernick read from his as yet unpublished novel, Sharpy, at the Library on June 25th.  In the chapter he read to us, the main character, a con artist on the run, meets his girlfriend’s intimidating parents when she brings him to their home to stay for a while. His writing is as fine as ever, and he had us laughing out loud.

As always, we heard tips for related reading from well-read members:

Great Short Works of Mark Twain: Thursday, July 12, 2007

Great Short Works: Twain I have been an author for 20 years and an ass for 55.
Mark Twain, a Biography

We had a small group this time, but as always, a mix of reactions. A couple of us were delighted with the merciless “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” CD plans to use part of this rant in his writing class. Then we wondered what all the fuss over the “Jumping Frog” was about, and CL pointed out the fun of reading it “Clawed back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil” after a translation into very bad French.

Some marveled at the vividness of “Old Times on the Mississippi,” with its wry description of the dreams of young boys, the lesson of the Pilot’s Association, and a poignant portrait of a young man slowly mastering what seems to be an impossibly large and changing body of knowledge. GC found this section to be tedious and discouraging, with so much detail about the river. We wondered why the most dense and lengthy piece was placed first. MG suggested it was because of its significance as the story of Twain’s name and identity, and as a breakthrough series in the 1875 Atlantic Monthly.

We laughed at Twain’s disfigured little conscience in “The Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut” and groaned in sympathetic agony with “The Story of a Speech.” Not everyone made it through to the end of the “Mysterious Stranger,” but we’re told it has a mind-boggling twist at the end.

As often happens, even those of us who aren’t real fans come away glad to have had a chance to read and reflect on some writing we can really sink our teeth into.

Mark Twain in His Times:Full of images and information
“Written and Directed by Stephen Railton, Department of English, University of Virginia”
Twain reading Directory of Mark Twain’s maxims, quotations, and various opinions
by Barbara Schmidt
The Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT:A required trip for all Twain fans The Hartford House
Scrapbook PBS – Mark Twain: A Film Directed by Ken Burns