Tag: singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Dr. Beeber” (1970)

isaac singer dr. beeber

Dr. Mark Beeber is a rich Bohemian philosopher who’s written one book but bears his title for pretension’s sake: he’s never written his dissertation. “His stories always came to the same conclusion: everything is vanity, all philosophers are mistaken, all ideals silly and hypocritical. Man is nothing but a sly ape. However, when one can’t pay the rent, there’s trouble.” He befriends a young writer at the Warsaw Writers’ Club whom he calls Tsutsik (which means puppy) who, seeing him deteriorate–he’d rejected his family–suggests a matchmaker. Beeber marries a rich woman who turns out to be a Martha Updike, controlling his environment so as to force him to publish another book. “She won’t let me answer the phone; she’s afraid I’ll be robbed of my time for contemplation.” All his needs are fulfilled down to a gastronomy that fattens him. But he’s bored. He feels so enslaved he starts an affair with the maid. He’s eternally dissatisfied. Then goes to a casino and wastes all of his wife’s money. She throws him out. His deterioration resumes. His philosophy has twisted, though it’s not much different than what it had been: “Rationalism is the worst disease of the human species. Reason will reverse evolution. Homo sapiens will become so clever that he won’t know how to breed, to eat, or go to the toilet. He’ll even have to learn how to die.” But even though he can’t pay the rent–he has no roof, no bed, no zlotys–what frightens him most in the end is that his wife would forgive him.

The New Yorker, March 7, 1970

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Yochna and Shmelke” (1977)

Yochna is a pious, homely, rather fat girl. She is arrangedly married to a pious man, Shmelke. They go through all the rituals, down to ensuring their heads are covered even in their most private moments. They copulate once, then Shmelke decides he has to go off to see rabbis, and dies in a terrible accident. His body is carried off by a torrent. Shmelke can’t remarry if his body isn’t found. She had loved him sight unseen, and now must live with him unseen forever. “Her luck had glowed briefly, then been extinguished. What had she done to be so afflicted?” She accepts her fate. She is pregnant.

A well enough told story but more fit for children than much else: the moralizing, The piousness, is syrupy and ultimately unrelated to anything but piousness for its own sake.

The New Yorker, February 14, 1977

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Key” (1969)

Bessie Popkin isn’t the only one confused in the story. Isaac Singer is a bit confused to. He sets up his widow heroine in the opening paragraphs as a woman paranoid of dybbuks and evils all around her in descriptions that make her seem more like a woman in the creeping stages of dementia. She lives on Broadway, she despises New York, especially its colorful people. She seldom ventures past her blocks. One day returning from the market she breaks her key. She never gave a spare to the superintendent, thinking he steals. She wanders the streets, giving us a few of the city as it was around 1967, when Singer wrote the story (the picture above was by David Attie of Getty Images, taken in 1968):

She notices an accident, firefighters cleaning the street of the victim. The reader thinks she’s seeing herself, dead. As she wanders about, she thinks, passing by a church and huddling in its doorway, where she sleeps, unmolested, of making reckoning. She has an epiphany. The animals she had always despised, she now loves, embodied in a cat that purred by her. It’s night, but “the fear of death was gone, along with her fear of being homeless.” She returns home. The superintendent helps her get back in her house. She is amazed by his kindness. A neighbor had placed the milk and butter she’d left at the door in her own fridge. Again, Bessie is amazed by th kindness. She goes into her room, lies down, feels something strange rise from her feet to her breast and as if dreams of her husband telling her, “You don’t need no key here. Just enter—and mazel too.” Is she dead?

Th confusion I referred to has to do with that first page: the details Singer sets out don’t relate to anything else in the story, at least not those that imply she is forgetful or delusional.

Here’s how The New Yorker summarizes the story, which ran in the Dec. 6, 1969 issue: “Bessie Popkin, a widow for over 20 years, lives alone in her apartment near Broadway. She has become slatternly and suspicious, feeling tormented by Evil Powers. Returning from a shopping trip, she tries to open her door, but the key breaks in the lock. Leaving her groceries in the hall, she goes in search of a locksmith. Exhausted from wandering in the darkness, Bessie dozes off on a church step. Awaking late at night, she sees the moon for the first time in years and thinks of her husband Sam. In a renascence, she decides to start a new life. Reaching home in the morning, she finds that a neighbor has taken care of her groceries and that the superintendent does have a key to the apartment. She lies down on her bed, feeling a heaviness and vibrations in her body, and dreams that Sam comes. Together they walk through a corridor which leads to two mountains meeting, with sunrise or sunset between them. In the voice of the hotel owner who had led them to their bridal suite, she hears the words, “You don’t need no key here. Just enter–and mazel tov.””

The New Yorker, December 6, 1969

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Guests on a Winter Night” (1969)

isaac singer

Krochmalna Street in Warsaw, where Singer’s family lived.

I must be missing something because it’s more than one guest in this longuish four-part story about the various characters who stay on Krochmalna Street, colorful as they may be. I did not get the point of the conjunctions. The story culminates with the visit from the eccentric Aunt Itte Fruman, who overstays her welcome a touch, then goes to olive with another relative (her husband has swindled her of her house, but it’s not proper to show him up), then eventually dies. Characters, anecdotes, atmosphere, but that alone doesn’t do it for me.

Forward, February 1969, The New Yorker, January 24, 1970

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “A Friend of Kafka” (1968)

isaac singer a frien d of kafka

The former actor Jacoharaques Khon’s rambling story of his illusions of shadowing glamour, whether through his friendship with the unknown Kafka or his affair, a one night stand, with a countess running away from her murderous lover. Too rambling. Similar to Singer’s “Dr. Beeber.”

Forfward, June 1968, The New Yorker, November 23, 1968