I haven’t read a ton of short stories (I did love We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes), but I was excited to read To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss because I adored one of her earlier novels, The History of Love. With beautiful writing, and rich, complex characters, Krauss manages to fit it all into each story of this lovely collection.
Influenced by history and her personal connection to Israel, Krauss addresses what it is to be a man through sex, power, passion, violence, self discovery and aging. Her characters exemplify human weakness and strength, whether they are lovers or strangers. One of my favorite stories called Zusya on the Roof is about a man who virtually died and then came back to life while in the hospital. He recovered from his illness enough to make it back home, just in time to attend his grandson’s bris. He carried the weight of the Jews from years past, and although he had the desire to impart sound advise to his grandson before the ceremony, he was overwhelmed with the responsibility and his mind drew a blank. Another favorite, Future Emergencies, was written by Krauss in the months following 9/11 but remains relevant today. It is about a couple living in NY and hearing on the radio that everyone must wear a gas mask. Protection was needed yet they were not told what the threat was. They stocked up at the grocery store and were provided instructions on how to seal up the windows. People were walking around town in fear with masks. Wow, this story was more true to life than I’m sure Nicole Krauss ever imagined when she was writing it.
Each of these layered short stories presents interesting characters, relationships and circumstances and I wished many of them would have continued on. My book group enjoyed To Be a Man and had engaging conversation. We talked a bit about Nicole Krauss and her relationship with her ex-husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. There is much to say about the fine line between love and violence, freedom and pain, and the ongoing power shift between men and women. I definitely recommend this short story collection.
About the Author
Nicole Krauss is the author of the international bestseller The History of Love, which was published by W.W. Norton in 2005. It won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Ėtranger, was named #1 book of the year by Amazon.com, and was short-listed for the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes. Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for First Fiction. In 2007, she was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and in 2010 The New Yorker named her one of the 20 best writers under 40.
Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, and Best American Short Stories, and her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages. She recently completed a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.