Fire Year

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

Jason K. Friedman’s con­fi­dent debut con­tains just sev­en short sto­ries, but the author man­ages to evoke a diverse col­lec­tion of minia­ture worlds in his com­pact col­lec­tion. And at the cen­ter of these worlds are a host of well-craft­ed char­ac­ters — typ­i­cal­ly Jew­ish, gay, South­ern, or any com­bi­na­tion of the three. 

There’s a stam­mer­ing shlemiel named Artie, sal­vaging car parts in a junk­yard for an abu­sive boss; a clear-eyed rab­bi named Aryeh, tempt­ing fate in a super­sti­tious vil­lage; an old woman named Miri­am, try­ing to hold on to her Yid­dish — and her cow — in a fam­i­ly that val­ues nei­ther. Regard­less of the peo­ple involved, the Amer­i­can South tends to loom large in the back­ground: In There’s Hope for Us All,” mon­eyed Atlanta serves as a set­ting for a tale about an ambi­tious young art cura­tor try­ing to prove his met­tle. It’s the grit­ty side of Savan­nah in The Cantor’s Mir­a­cle,” a heart­break­ing tale of a can­tor who’s try­ing to earn enough to sur­vive while he care­ful­ly tends to a bud­ding romance.

The strongest sto­ries come at the begin­ning of the book. In Blue,” an awk­ward bar mitz­vah boy suf­fers through a ter­ri­ble par­ty at his grand­par­ents’ house, won­der­ing if any of the girls from school will ever show up. And in Reunion,” the high­light of Fire Year, a gay, Jew­ish New York­er returns to his South­ern home­town for a high school reunion, where he has to face the demons he thought he’d left behind.

Fried­man knows how to end a sto­ry in an unex­pect­ed place, mak­ing the read­er recon­sid­er what it was tru­ly about — and con­sid­er going back and read­ing it again.

Relat­ed Reading:

Wayne Hoff­man is a vet­er­an jour­nal­ist, pub­lished in The New York Times, Wall Street Jour­nalWash­ing­ton Post, Hadas­sah Mag­a­zineThe For­wardOutThe Advo­cate, and else­where; he is exec­u­tive edi­tor of the online Jew­ish mag­a­zine Tablet. The author of The End of Her: Rac­ing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Mur­der, he has also pub­lished three nov­els, includ­ing Sweet Like Sug­ar, which won the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award. He lives in New York City and the Catskills.

Discussion Questions