Thursday, January 01, 2015

Sitting Shiva

I've been so sick lately that after work (or, because of being so sick--lying in bed all day) mainly the only thing I've been able to do activity-wise is read. I've read a lot of crappy novels, which I may or may not review. Desperation was setting in, and I was beginning to think I couldn't find anything decent to read.

Then, one of my Facebook pals, Elliot Feldman, did a brief promotion of a novel he had written. The rights had reverted back to Elliot and so he did like any smart author--he published his backlist himself. I'll quote now from Eliot:

"The first edition was originally published by legendary NYC publisher Barney Rossett (Grove Press and Evergreen Review) in 2003. It was originally going to be published in 2001, but 911 happened. The Towers were near Barney's neighborhood. Publishers Group West was the distributor. They sent it out in 2003 with no PR support. I did my own publicity and got a few decent reviews. Barney died in 2011 and I got the rights back. I self-published a second edition with my original comic cover this year."

I first noticed Elliot's work in cartoon form in his online posts. His work reminds me a bit of Harvey Pekar's in that he writes about what most would term the mundane, but is actually working-class stuff elevated to art. Like Pekar, he has a funny side that hues close to darkness. And of course the great Robert Bloch always said that humor and horror were just two sides of the same coin.

Before retiring, Feldman worked in Hollywood. Again, I'll post a quote from him:

"Before writing the novel I wrote jokes and puzzles for TV game shows like The Match Game."

SITTING SHIVA is an excellent book. In between suffering through cold sweats and coughing fits I read through it fitfully over the course of a couple of days. It's deft work. Feldman tells the story of a Detroit native suffering through his father's death and funeral, coupled with flashbacks and skillfully wrought flash-forwards detailing the life of one Charlie Fish from childhood to adult. Charlie Fish is a funny and sympathetic character, outsider to most, including his own family. Through the novel he comes to discover secrets about his father and how these secrets affected the lives of everyone in his family.

Some of the book is quite funny; parts are uncomfortable. And there is one scene near the very end of the novel that is equal in pure shock to that of any horror novel I could name. In all, Feldman paints a skilled portrait of an American family.

Like many great stories, it's also not just about people. It's also a biography of a place. In this case, the city of Detroit as it once was and will not be again.

I highly recommend that anyone who enjoys a good book order a copy. Now.

For those of you who are not familiar with aspects of Jewish culture, 'sitting shiva' refers to the seven-day period of mourning after the death of a loved one.

You can read Elliot Feldman's hilarious comics here.

I have to post this. The song features prominently in an early scene and helps to get Charlie Fish out of a particularly uncomfortable predicament.

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