Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd

Mar 10 2013 @ 9:17am

J.L. Wall examines an exception to Paul Elie’s much debated claim that the “novel of belief” is disappearing – fiction by Jewish-American writers:

Even novels that aren’t explicitly about belief have taken to depicting—sometimes in great detail—the lives of traditional believers. The imagined Alaskan Jewish community in Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is defined by the small but visible “Verbover” Hasidic sect. Chabon’s corrupt, conspiring Verbovers are less sympathetic than [Zoe] Heller’s sometimes abrasive but genuinely caring Monsey Orthodox, but in painting his Jewish world Chabon still needs to include the Orthodox…

Jewish novelists are, I would wager, no more likely to be traditional believers now than they were a generation ago. Of the three mentioned above, Henkin and Chabon describe themselves as practicing Judaism—but not the Orthodoxy which defines their believers. Yet Jewish life in New York City—which remains (somewhat to the chagrin of this lifelong resident of flyover country) the capital of both American Jewish and American literary life—is increasingly lived in relation to Orthodoxy. Everyone has a frum (religious) cousin and if you think you don’t—the joke goes—then he’s you. Knowing or being related to someone who has turned to traditional Jewish belief and practice is increasingly common. Even, one suspects, among secular literary figures.