Not since Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision, have I read a set of stories that so captured the heart of immigrant and ex-pat America. I don’t mean to belittle Molly Antopol by saying that her The UnAmericans doesn’t quite measure up to Pearlman’s work. She’s so very young, after all, having just received an award for under-35’ers, and she has a long time to develop her prodigious talent. Plus, I haven’t read any collection by anybody save maybe Munro or Chekov that compares with Pearlman. However, Antopol both in subject matter and impact does approach the quality of Binocular Vision.
I always have trouble reviewing short story collections because it seems one has to pick either a favorite or a couple of single stories that typify the whole. Which seems sort of like picking favorite chapters from a novel. But, gun to my head, I’d have to point to the opening story “The Old World” about a widower who falls in love with a Ukrainian woman. It’s rather remarkable that Antopol’s able to get these two oldsters right, given her youth. But she does. And we end up in Kiev (how many post-Tolstoy stories go there?) for a sad and mysterious ending that’s well and truly drawn.
And skipping all the way to the end, you’ll have a hard time beating “Retrospective” about a fresh marriage between a couple of Americans with close ties to Israel who go to Jerusalem to help settle the estate of the wife’s grandmother. The ending is one of those surprising, yet inevitable moments of anagnorisis that leaves you nearly breathless.
And thought she proves herself more than proficient in creating male protagonists, women get their due as well. Talia in “A Difficult Phase” pulls us into what is literally a very thorny situation, and we’re never sure whether she escapes or not.
Just a sample, inadequately described. This is a writer and a book well worth the time of any reader. And I’m sure we’ll hear more from her.