Rueful melancholy and caustic humour permeate these impressive stories, set on America’s chilly east coast . . . The tone is set by the brilliant, bombastic opener.
The disconsolate middle-aged New England men in Stuart Nadler s debut short collection, The Book of Life, have Updikean and Salteresque set ups . . . Nadler’s keen sensitivity to inter-generational continuities, and to the breakdown of Judaism and marriage as moral compasses, give him a distinctive place in contemporary American fiction, one shared only by Nathan Englander.
Stuart Nadler is a great writer . . . Nadler is a master of the withheld detail. His debut . . . is propelled by the small-scale opera of normal life: affairs, divorces, filial decay, more affairs. Words like rare, poignant and utterly absorbing were thrown around Stateside when the book was released there last year, and it’s hard to disagree. Nadler's prose is airtight, his characters coloured-in with a careful, attentive hand. These may be short stories, but they’re no mere sketches. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the amount of plot Nadler manages to eke out of so few words . . . The seven stories here comprise a coherent, even complete whole. Fans of both the short story and the novel will find plenty of sustenance.
‘In Judeo-Christian mythology, The Book of Life is said to contain the names of everyone who is destined for Heaven. If that book turns out to be as inclusive as Stuart Nadler’s debut collection of short stories, then we can all rest a little easier, for the inhabitants of these seven perfectly crafted stories are flawed, depressed, lonely men and women, given to adultery, despondency and all-round imperfection. These aren’t saints, thank God . . . In these stories even a slight ripple can build into a life-changing swell . . . Nadler’s sentences are crisp, clear, and invisibly freighted with nuance . . . Like all great short story writers, Nadler can make his characters whole with the minimal amount of gesturing.’
I found these stories utterly absorbing; so perceptive, so crackling with wit, so sad. His characters ask too much of one another, take the long way around to asking the difficult questions of themselves, and that’s why they strike home so truly for the reader. It felt like a rich, almost transgressive delight to spend time in the worlds of these stories – even when they were permeated with the tension and unease which Nadler can evoke so skillfully.
Betrayal and forgiveness infuse this impressive debut collection . . . Nadler skillfully creates characters whose failures and faults make them comically, endearingly human.