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The result is that Singer’s stories about supernatural occurrences are neither folkish nor preciously magical-realist, but genuinely uncanny and often frightening studies of human nature.Take, for instance, “The Destruction of Kreshev,” another story narrated by the devil: “I am the Primeval Snake, the Evil One, Satan,” he begins.In a more conventional kind of story, Lise would resent her marriage to this unworldly and awkward man; here, on the contrary, she falls deeply in love with Shloimele, because she has always longed for the kind of intellectual pursuits forbidden to women.She becomes obsessed with her new husband and falls under his spell to a degree that seems unwholesome.
This was a familiar Jewish story, dating back to the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment of the 18th century.
The genius of the story lies in the way Shloimele and Lise unsettle us, not by their violation of Jewish custom, but by their excessively passionate fulfillment of it.
Just as Lise honors the Torah, but more than a woman should, so she loves and submits to her husband much too much: They were always whispering together, telling each other secrets, consulting books together, and calling each other odd nicknames.
For American Jews, one legacy of the Holocaust is a sense of guilty nostalgia toward the life of our ancestors in Eastern Europe.
The nostalgia is natural enough—it is the idealization of an unknown past that is common among American immigrant groups, as Irish or Italian as it is Jewish.