Death by Pastrami

  • Review
By – February 26, 2015

Leonard S. Bernstein’s Death by Pas­tra­mi is a col­lec­tion of delight­ful, fast-paced sto­ries — an inti­mate, anec­do­tal jour­ney back to the hey­day of the gar­ment indus­try in New York, with a writer who has deeply known it.

In each of these sev­en­teen sto­ries, Bern­stein intro­duces his read­ers to the every­day denizens of the schmat­te world: mon­ey men, fore­men, rag­men, sales­men, union orga­niz­ers, cut­ters, watch­men: Engel­hart, a children’s paja­mas sales­man and obses­sive steal­er of foun­tain pens; Kessler, the charmer, who whee­dles wid­ows into giv­ing him their late hus­bands’ suits, which he then resells for $50 a piece; Hen­der­son, who makes the deci­sion to reduce his wardrobe to one navy blue suit, one shirt, one tie, one pair of shoes and socks that he will wear to the end of his days.The sto­ries are pop­u­lat­ed by a cast of char­ac­ters with at least a pass­ing acquain­tance­ship with the old coun­try, which adds an addi­tion­al lev­el of poignan­cy, as these ties to our col­lec­tive mem­o­ry fade with each pass­ing year.

Bern­stein com­bines the mul­ti­ple tal­ents of the nat­ur­al racon­teur and sto­ry­teller with an ener­getic, imme­di­ate writ­ing style and spring-loaded dia­logue. Also inter­spersed are a cou­ple of tales of life in the old coun­try: courtships gone askew, gen­er­a­tional feuds. They too share the author’s iron­ic insights and sharp, zest­ful style.

Relat­ed content:

Judith Felsen­feld book of short fic­tion, Blaustein’s Kiss, was pub­lished in April, 2014. Her sto­ries have appeared in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary reviews, includ­ing The Chica­go Review, The South­west Review, Blue Mesa, and broad­cast nation­wide on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.

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