New York 1, Tel Aviv 0: Stories

Shelly Oria
  • Review
By – February 2, 2015

A recur­ring char­ac­ter type in Shelly Oria’s sto­ries is a woman of obvi­ous ener­gy and appeal, who tends to get her way social­ly, pro­fes­sion­al­ly, and roman­ti­cal­ly, because peo­ple fall for women like her. This col­lec­tion is dom­i­nat­ed by such free-spir­it­ed women who pos­sess seem­ing­ly irre­sistible intrigue. Oria’s char­ac­ters learn how a per­son like this can both anchor you and make you feel even more help­less in a new, over­whelm­ing city like Manhattan. 

Some of Oria’s char­ac­ters must man­age mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties: nation­al, reli­gious, and sex­u­al. Oria ren­ders the inter­play of these in lan­guage that feels hon­est and excep­tion­al­ly dis­cern­ing. The pro­found com­pli­ca­tions of a protagonist’s mul­ti-faceted emo­tion­al state often come out dur­ing scenes of inti­ma­cy. Char­ac­ters are aware of their des­per­a­tion and hope as embod­ied by the chore­og­ra­phy of a par­tic­u­lar sex­u­al encounter. Oria deft­ly depicts how moments of inti­ma­cy can punc­tu­ate a rela­tion­ship and, accord­ing­ly, high­light its peaks and fore­tell and demar­cate its end. 

When deal­ing with top­ics like vio­lence in Israel, Oria’s lan­guage can be shock­ing­ly blunt, maybe even crass at first blush. But it is the inter­play of pre­cise­ly this blunt­ness and Oria’s under­ly­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ty that makes the over­all voice of the col­lec­tion unique. Oria writes, Israelis con­sult me about their grief, and I offer effi­cient ways of cop­ing. The Israeli gov­ernment pays me to tell Israelis Liv­ing Abroad that if their son died in a sui­cide bomb­ing they should stick to a rigid sleep reg­i­men and drink green tea every morn­ing.” Oria’s punch betrays an insider’s casu­al famil­iar­i­ty with trauma. 

Oria’s char­ac­ters are sen­si­tive to the psy­cho­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences between Israelis and Amer­i­cans, and explic­it­ly con­sid­er the roman­tic impli­ca­tions of these dif­fer­ences. Many of her sto­ries present a newcomer’s fresh per­spec­tive on New York City and Amer­i­ca. For exam­ple, express­ing her gen­er­al prefer­ence for New York, she writes, There is rage and rude­ness in Israel, but they move around con­fi­dent­ly, know­ing noth­ing is ever going to change. In New York peo­ple run and run and run, because change is absolute­ly pos­si­ble, if only they run fast enough to catch it. ”

Relat­ed content:

Ben­jamin Abramowitz is an MFA stu­dent at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege and Fic­tion Edi­tor of the lit­er­ary mag­a­zine Con­struc­tion.

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