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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, May 19th, 2004


 

Natasha: And Other Stories

by David Bezmozgis

Is David Bezmozgis the One?

A review by Scott Raab

The frightening thing about David Bezmozgis's Natasha and Other Stories isn't how good it is or how young Bezmozgis is — although it is scary good, and D-Bez is barely 30. No, what's truly terrifying is how the bandwagon is in full swing behind him.

Seven stories, 150 pages, and already he's published fiction in Harper's and The New Yorker. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But now comes his publisher trumpeting comparisons of Bezmozgis to Malamud, Brodkey, and Roth — and also, just for you young 'uns, Adam Haslett, Nathan Englander, and Jhumpa Lahiri. (The only brand names uninvoked — Proust and Dave Eggers — are apparently reserved for next year's genius.)

I pray the Bezman's tough enough not to melt under all this forced-air heat. He surely ought to be: The kid's a Latvian-born Jew who grew up in Toronto, and his stuff dances across the page without flash or fuss. The best stories of this bunch, the title job and "Minyan," are nothing short of brilliant, and there's not a weakling among them. To Bezmozgis's vast credit, not a line or note in the book rings false; the voice of his storyteller, young Mark Berman, is grounded by the streets of his family's neighborhood, and nothing comes off as smug or, worse still, wise. If you put a loaded rugelah to my graying head and forced me to come up with a comparison, I'd go with Joyce's Dubliners, but funny.

Yet forgive me, David, for I have seen the youthful first-person, eye-of-the-family-storm, smarter-than-the-struggling-but-beloved-parents narrator die a thousand deaths, often with nary a novel to show for it. So keep your chin down and your hands up, and take your time in there. You might be the one someday. We'll wait.


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