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  • Something Shared
  • Alexander Luft (bio)
The Fourth Corner of the World
Scott Nadelson
Engine Books
256 Pages; Print, $14.95

In stories about loneliness, solitude and its attendant griefs can become, paradoxically enough, something shared. That's the case for stories in Scott Nadelson's new collection, The Fourth Corner of the World, whose lonely characters imbue distant times and remote locations with anxiety that feels thoroughly present. For Nadelson, isolation gives occasion to reflect on the past, and so memory functions as a precious entrée through which both characters and readers can grapple with a shared history. The Fourth Corner's mostly Jewish characters endure ordeals not quite past, like the death of a spouse or the disappointment of an incomplete love affair, while still hoping to somehow recover their futures. These stories remind us that, in the long view of history, we are all alone together.

Nadelson's collection thrives on geographical and temporal estrangement, though many of the stories are set in locales familiar to the author's life, including 1980s suburban New Jersey and near his current home in Oregon. Visits to postwar Helsinki and Bernard Malamud's front yard on a summer night in 1953 stake out these stories as part of a wide-ranging cultural heritage for their Jewish protagonists. Even though Nadelson lends historical detail to these settings, the stories themselves seek a trajectory outside the metanarratives in which they are framed. In one story, a meandering Portland newspaper reporter uncovers the complicated history of a painter who helped to smuggle Jewish artists out of Paris in World War II but later espoused antisemitic views. The narrator feels responsible—and disillusioned—when the local museum removes one of the artist's masterful paintings because they have failed to "distinguish between what's dangerous and what's simply unsavory." The Fourth Corner brims with these kinds of losses—burdened with history and nonetheless experienced as deeply personal. In focusing on these moments, Nadelson's stories try to preserve a sense not of how history works but rather how it feels.

Time can seem to pass differently in The Fourth Corner. In the collection's opening story, "Son of a Star, Son of a Liar," a teenager named

Shmuli bides his time in Paris in 1921, waiting for the chance to take revenge for his sister killed in Odessa. Shmuli is an apprentice at a clock and watch shop, where counting time is supposed to be his main concern, but the job is a cover for his real task: shooting the pogromist who happens to live in his boardinghouse. The same attack that killed Shmuli's sister has left him with a limp, but the past's real burden is its demand for an adequately violent response. When Shmuli finally confronts the pogromist, he finds a regretful man who also walks with a limp, and he seems to realize the same violence that closes the past could also foreclose the future. In the story's final scene, Shmuli hopes to be "freed from time" and "released from what was into what will be," emblematic of the collection's impulses to defeat or escape that metanarratives of history.

Alluding to Isaiah's messianic prophecy of Jewish people gathering from "the four corners of the earth," Nadelson's selections cast Jewish diaspora as both an ongoing history and a set of intractable personal experiences. The Fourth Corner's titular story follows a nineteen-year-old named Yankel Holm living in the Jewish settlement of New Kiev in Oregon in 1883, established in his brother's vision as a place where his people might "part not only with history but with all known forms of life, to enter a land so unfamiliar it would erase any memory of the people they'd once been." But Yankel's brother, Aron, was killed years before they could travel to the New World together. The story juxtaposes Aron's murder in the past with Yankel's present life in the colony, including a happenstance discovery of his fellow villagers engaged in a threesome in the woods at night. Yankel agonizes over Anna Riback...


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pp. 24-25
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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