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Reviewed by:
  • World Without Heroes: The Brooklyn Novels of Daniel Fuchs, and: The Monological Jew: A Literary Study
  • Leslie Field
Marcelline Krafchick. World Without Heroes: The Brooklyn Novels of Daniel Fuchs. Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1988. 120 pp. $19.50.
L. S. Dembo. The Monological Jew: A Literary Study. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1988. 196 pp. $32.50 cloth; pb. $13.50.

It is generally acknowledged that Daniel Fuchs's reputation rests on three novels he published in the 1930s: Summer in Williamsburg (1934), Homage to Blenholt (1936), and Low Company (1937). Few copies of the books were sold initially, and although the novels (reissued in 1961 and republished as The Williamsburg Trilogy in 1971) did acquire some readership over the years, the books have received scant critical attention.

To correct this oversight Marcelline Krafchick has reexamined Fuchs's three Brooklyn novels in her slim volume; she first focuses on the gangster theme. In this area Krafchick emphasizes that Fuchs blurred the distinction between criminal and respectable business. This differentiated Fuchs from his contemporaries who immersed themselves in the hard-boiled criminal school of fiction. Krafchick believes that Fuchs deliberately muddied "the definitions of illicit and respectable conduct" because Fuchs's characters lived in a world where survival often meant accepting the job that was available—any job, whether it be in prostitution, loan sharking, the protection racket, illicit liquor operations, or one of many other unsavory occupations in Depression America.

Fuchs wrote his stories against the background of the proliferating gangster genre movies in vogue from 1930-1934. The films, it seems, created audience ambivalence in which the movie gangsters were both rejected and admired. For Fuchs, Krafchick says, unromantic gangsters became central to his novels, and they too elicited ambivalence from his readers. Implicit in Fuchs's philosophy of American business during the difficult economic years of the 1930s is that both legitimate and illegitimate business adhered to similar unethical standards.

Krafchick's exploration of Fuchs's style and technique focuses on three major techniques: his use of "the multiple protagonist, the telegraphically jarring [End Page 288] shift in perspective, and the symbolic use of doors and mirrors to focus on the mystery of perspective." Ultimately, Krafchick believes that Fuchs, "through his play of competing sympathies," is able to capture the truth of his characters and their situations. Krafchick devotes one chapter of analysis to each of the three novels. In Summer in Williamsburg she probes the theme of "nurturing"; in Homage to Benholt she analyzes "the tension between humiliation or indignity and grandeur and significance"; and in Low Company she explores Fuchs's wasteland theme.

In her narrow, close reading of Fuchs's Brooklyn novels, Krafchick does a fine job of revealing salient features of Fuchs's themes and methods within the context of fiction written during America's years of economic depression. However, her deemphasis of the more traditional ways Fuchs has been regarded—as a Jewish and social novelist—seems unwarranted.

L. S. Dembo at the outset of his The Monologuai Jew admits that at first he intended only to write a series of essays on Jewish themes. Later, as he draws primarily on "the thought of Martin Buber, and to a lesser extent that of M. M. Bakhtin, the Monological Jew is an abstraction, a philosophic and literary category, that I have pursued for whatever insights it offers about Jewish literature and Jews in general."

Dembo's simple definition for a monologist is "somebody who talks too much and never listens." Ostensibly, the converse gives rise to a dialogist, one who engages in dialogue. Sartre's existential man, especially his conception of man as Jew, acts as a prime paradigm for Dembo's monological Jew in Jewish fiction. In this context and others Dembo tries to demonstrate a link between monologism and antisemitism.

Dembo analyzes key novels by Jewish-American novelists: Bruce J. Friedman's Stern, Edward Lewis Wallant's The Tenants of Moonbloom, Leo Rosten's The Education of Hyman Kaplan, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky, I. B. Singer's The Family Moskat, Chaim Potok's My Name...


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