June 15, 2016 by Leeron Hoory
The Bed Moved is Rebecca Schiff’s debut collection of 23 short stories ranging from a few pages to a few paragraphs. Their language and voice are unique; sentences often end in ways that twist their beginnings. In “My Allergies Will Charm You,” the narrator opens with, “He had found me on the internet, and now I was going back to the internet.”
In “Communication Arts,” a teacher corresponds with students A, B, D, and Z, portraying a delicate and bizarre relationship between authority and vulnerability. Many of the characters make statements that are bleak in their honesty, revealing unintentional vulnerability. In “Third Person,” a few paragraphs paint a woman’s intricate but dissociated relationship to sex and connection: “Rebecca wanted to tell them not to worry, she forgot all the sex she had as soon as she had it, she didn’t really have it when she had it, and she hadn’t for a long time.”
The New York Times Book Review commented on Schiff’s compact language, noting her “almost Nabokovian boldness and crispness of phrase. Nabokov summarized a death in two words: ‘picnic, lightening.’ Ms. Schiff condenses a woman’s college years: ‘Nietzsche, penetration’.”
Often the characters are unintentionally funny. Many deal with illness and death. I met with Schiff in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to speak about her book, the relationship between technology and illness, and the role humor can play when women write about difficult topics.
May 24, 2016 by Leeron Hoory
L.A.-based filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler does not shy away from controversy. She has just released a new video where she confronts men who’ve sent her online sexts on Tinder. In the video she confronts these men in person—men unprepared for her experiment—to have them read their online sexts to her in person. Even they are embarrassed by their communication, and it’s clear from the exercise that the men treat women in person differently than online.
This video can be seen as a continuation of “The Skinny,” Kahnweiler’s recent dark comedy series. Produced by Jill Soloway’s Wifey.TV and Refinery29, the web series premiered at the Sundance. The episodes follow Jessie’s life as a feminist and striving YouTube star in L.A., yet the series is unsettling; it deals with the realities of battling bulimia, based Kahnweiler’s own 10-year struggle with the eating disorder.
April 27, 2016 by Leeron Hoory
Ayelet Tsabari’s award-winning debut book, The Best Place on Earth (Random House 2016), is an illuminating collection of stories about the lives of marginalized members of Israeli society. The stories are mostly about the lives of Mizrahi Jews, many of them descendants of Jews who came from Yemen, Tsabari’s country of origin. In a review, Publisher’s Weekly notes that “Whereas David Grossman and Amoz Oz have been adept at writing about a narrow segment of Israeli society, Tsabari’s first collection is rich with many stories from across all of Israel—and beyond.”
In “The Poets in the Kitchen Window,” a high school boy is passionate about poetry, but without a role model, it doesn’t occur to him to take this interest seriously until his sister gives him a book of poetry by an Iraqi Jew. In “Brit Milah,” a grandmother travels from Israel to Canada to visit her daughter, who has recently married a Canadian and has just given birth to a boy. When she finds her daughter chose not to circumcise her grandson, she is filled with rage, betrayed beyond speech, and is forced to grapple between the abandonment she feels and her love for both her daughter and her new grandson.
The story “Invisible” features Rosalynn, a caretaker from the Philippines, who develops a romantic relationship with her younger Israeli neighbor. The relationship provides each of them solace at the same time that it’s disorienting, and it ends before it fully starts.
The Best Place on Earth, which won the Sami Rohr prize in 2015, deals with the human capability to overcome social conditioning and the ways in which we nevertheless often fail at this.
Born in Israel, Tsabari moved to Canada in her twenties and lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter. (The collection was originally published by HarperCollins, Canada in 2013.) Lilith spoke with Tsabari about her book’s recent release in the U.S., Mizrahi identity, and writing this novel in her second language.