Category Archives: More Bullshit

A book review of The Ministry of Special Cases in four parts


Your only son was probably drugged and thrown out of an airplane. And yet you know you will never see a confirming body, because it’s disappeared with the rest of the victims of Argentina’s Dirty War. And your wife alternatively visits morgues, searching for her son’s face, and stares out her apartment window, waiting for him to walk around the street corner. And while your son is both living and dead – the most painful characteristic of the desaparecidos – you still have to work your day job knocking Jewish names off gravestones. You still have to walk through the cemetery, the cruel reminder that bones should always belong to someone and that someone should always belong to bones. Meanwhile you don’t feel guilty that the last time you saw your 18-year-old son, right before he was taken away by the secret police, you told him that you wished he’d never been born. You know that in the intervening days of torture chambers and one-way flights, he has grown up enough to know that you didn’t mean it. And so you walk around with part of yourself erased. Half your nose is missing because a plastic surgeon lopped it off to pay a debt. Your son has your nose, and he wanders with it somewhere, like a character in Gogol. You have exhausted all means of seeing your face again.


Englander and Rivka Galchen:

At some point, early on, I decided I liked the speed of pen and paper. It slows me down. I like the way it looks. And that doesn’t mean I won’t write the next novel on computer. I just might. And I just might do it in six weeks. And it just might be called The Big Booby Car Chase and contain one sex scene, one fiery car chase, and end with the bad guy shot in the eye, and the hero in love.

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I’m a blogger, but I also have feelings and wisdoms

I am facing my first big blogging dilemma. I am reviewing Nathan Englander’s debut novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, because Englander is coming to town for the Virginia Festival of the Book and when he arrives I want all my friends to be ready with erudite questions and posters for him to autograph. The book is excellent – I read it all in one sitting like it was Harry Potter – but I also want to tell you exactly why I liked it and why the people who didn’t like it were wrong.

And here I face my dilemma. The Ministry of Special Cases is a literary book and so it deserves a literary review. On the other hand, that’s what the back sections of newspapers are for. But I don’t want to demean the novel and myself by being all cutesy-funny-bloggy. I don’t want to turn ten years of Englander’s life into “A Postmodern Book Review Related through Dialogue between Wistar and Her Argentine Ex-Boyfriend Luis” (even though I thought about it).

So I’m not sure how I’m going to do this. If I hadn’t already lost three quarters of my reading audience, I might launch into the book review right now. But no, this kind of thing requires long-term planning, nail biting, another strip of bacon, preliminary bloggings, some upper body exercises, American Idol, and this New Yorker article about Abu Ghraib (cited in the back of Ministry). I also have to learn to restrain my innate facetiousness and self-obsession before the big day, much like Michiko Kakutani has to hold back her own fun-loving and adorable nature when reviewing for the New York Times.

The Virginia Festival of the Book is ready to kick some ass

I’ve been browsing this year’s crop of authors on the Virginia Festival of the Book’s webpage, and the list makes me proud to live in Charlottesville. Yes, C-Ville already has bragging rights for being home to the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and that after-hours diner that serves a hamburger with a fried egg on it, but we are also cool enough to entice TWO Tantric sex experts (who I’m pretty sure are having sex with each other), a former Black Panther, and an authority on American swimming pools to come to town for the world’s best book festival.

And this year I do not have to love the luminaries from afar because I. . .am attending. . .the Authors. . .Reception! In fact, anyone with $25 is attending the Authors Reception, but I plan to make a powerful impression. I have been studying the headshots and bios of the Festival participants so I will be able to approach them confidently at the party:

Me to Famous Author – Hello, aren’t you so-and-so who wrote such-and-such, my favorite book of all time?

Famous Author – Why yes! Aren’t you lovely! Here, have a book contract. [In my fantasy, authors give each other book contracts and cash advances.]

Me to Another Famous Author – Hello, aren’t you so-and-so who wrote such-and-such, my favorite book of all time?

Other Famous Author – Send your novel manuscript to my Manhattan office right away. Let’s get you a book contract!

I have bookmarked a few people who I am most looking forward to accosting at the reception. Here is an abbreviated list:

1) Taylor Atrium, author of The Headmaster Ritual. He’s adorable. He’ll probably be hitting on me all over the place. And I will humor his advances because he got his MFA from Virginia.

2) Nathan Englander, Author of The Ministry of Special Causes. I plan to review his novel on my website. This will be a special treat for all those who have not been lucky enough to read my college English papers, in which I analyzed every book through the lens of either masturbation or cannibalism.

3) Colm Toibin, author of Mothers and Sons. I gave this book of short stories to my grandmother (who has EIGHT sons) after falling in love with the author on NPR. She found it depressing, so I am sure to find it invigorating.

4) George Garrett. I probably won’t get a chance to talk to him since he will most likely be occupying a golden throne hoisted by underprivileged child poets.

5) Vigen Guroian, because he’s a professor at Loyola Baltimore where my baby brother plays (Division 1!) lacrosse. I want to convince Guroian to keep an eye on my brother and make sure he gets enough to eat.

6) The Tantra people

7) Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, even though virtually every book critic’s response to this book was “No, Proust wasn’t.” This guy is only a breath over 18 and he has already taught at Oxford and written a bestseller.

8 ) Lisa Russ Spaar, poet and UVA professor. I just think she’s really nice and also talented. I will probably share my hors d’oeuvres with her.

So I think we’re all pretty psyched now for the Virginia Festival of the Book. Authors, try to psych your way into getting out your checkbooks, drafting our contracts, and/or preparing your laudatory jacket blurbs for my debut novel. In return, I will try not to stalk you after the reception is over.

Wedding pictures

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-Posing by the gazebo

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-The second best date at the wedding, after the bride

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-Gleefully instigating a dance fight

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-What’s a wedding without a secret tree fort?