Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the Reign of (Thin) Peace

There is something fundamentally thin in Hugh Nissenson’s collection of short stories In the Reign of Peace.  It was published by the venerable FS&G in 1968, and the stories appeared, variously, in Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, MidstreamThe New Yorker.  So why are the stories so wafer thin?  Why is the book out of print, and the copy I read in the Cornell Annex, not read since 1972?

Part of the problem is Nissenson’s set up.   Most of the stories take place in Israel in the 1960s, and most of his material was culled from his far better non-fiction book about Israel during this time, Notes from the Frontier, which has an immediacy these stories lack.  It was as Nissenson was having difficulties translating real life into fiction; or more accurately, non-fiction to fiction.  He also creates  an Israel that non-Jews can understand, giving the stories a water down, far from the mark feel.

Regardless, don’t let this book throw you off.  Nissenson is a talented writer, with a broad range and great reach.  But these stories fall far short of his talents.

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