Review: Faithful and Other Stories by Daniel Karasik

I feel slightly cheated. This was my first ARC and I was so excited to read something new. But Karasik has duped me. Each of these stories has been previously published in some way, and often won an award. OK, OK… He hasn’t actually cheated me, but I was a little disappointed to find that these were not new stories. After some counselling, I realise that this gives me the opportunity to do an open review and not worry too much about revealing spoilers… You have been warned.

The title story, ‘Faithful’, is in fact the last and yet I couldn’t help reading each story through the lens of this title. They all seems to question the reader’s assumptions about faithfulness from a different perspective. They each seem to ask; ‘Is this faithfulness? Is this true?’

This collection of seemingly separate and unrelated stories reads as one complex and interwoven narrative with various perspectives. Karasik even brings in recurring names, images and motifs weaving a thread through all the stories. The apple tree where Saul dies in ‘Mine’ appears in the last story when Jake watches his daughter reading poetry. Aaron Gold shows up as a minor character in a later story. These recurrences tie the collection together beautifully, as though he knew every story he was going to write from the beginning.

Religion seems to be an undercurrent in each story as well, especially Judaism. The wife in ‘Mine’ says “no silence can be held indefinitely, except perhaps the silence of God.” The characters that broach the subject of God seem to share this view; that God is silent and passive. Tasia in ‘Sister’ says “You can’t make flowers unless you’re God. Who doesn’t exist. Which means you’re not him.” She is confirming God and denying him all at once.

Later Marina, the sister, tells her “It’s not impossible, Tasia. Of course it is not impossible.” I assume she is pregnant and feels that she has indeed created life. Aaron Gold, in ‘A Much Loved Teacher’, says “thank God” three times in the last paragraph when he realises that his teacher has not been in a terrible accident.

In a collection of stories that questions faithfulness and relationships, this perception of God is a loss for me as I see God as the epitome of faithfulness. I’m not going to guess at Mr. Karasik’s religious beliefs, however, his stories seem to yearn for the divine, for something bigger than this fleeting life. He seems to be reaching for eternity.

Witness’ is possibly my favourite; it is a bizarre and transporting story. The narrator asks “Why live at all?” and then goes on to quote Matthew Arnold saying “Love, let us be true to one another!” He explains his definition of love as “the revelation of something worth our fidelity”. This could be summary of the entire book. What is worth your fidelity? Are you faithful to it?

From the middle it lost me a little. In some cases the stories lacked clarity, perhaps I’m not supposed to know what’s going on. I felt a sense of confusion, especially regarding identity. Often the characters are hiding something or not being honest with themselves. It’s probably the point but this frustrated me.

Faithful’ was a difficult read, longer than necessary and alienating. I didn’t empathise with the Jake. I think he’s a self-centred and childish man. The grown up daughter is rather flat and her religion seems like a trend she has adopted rather than a conviction. Patricia’s mental illness is used to excuse Jake’s terrible behaviour. He abandons his prestigious desk job to become a painter so perhaps it’s a story about being faithful to yourself but I still think he’s an igit.

That having been said, the writing is beautiful throughout this collection and I will make a point of reading anything else by Karasik that finds its way to me.

 

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