"The line between humor and sadness is especially thin," says one very perceptive character in Stuart Nadler's dazzling debut story collection. Fans of the short fiction of Philip Roth, Ethan Canin and Michael Chabon will recognize the guilt, regret and obligations that the Jewish sons in these seven tales carry with them as they battle the pressures from enveloping families to be better boys than their surging passions will allow them to be. Nadler writes of a newer generation than Roth, Canin and Chabon do, one in which estranged brothers go beyond silent standoffs of resentment into actually punching each other, in which mistresses up to no good tell their older lovers, "I'm smarter than you are." Old timers in these tales may still favor passive-aggressive methods, but the youngsters just spit out things like, "I really wish you hadn't married that woman" and "Never buy your mistress something your wife doesn't already own.... It's bad karma."
Those fighting to escape the stranglehold of tradition find transgressive liberation in betrayal, substance abuse and revenge schemes. Blessedly dark ironic humor is a supreme talent that Nadler displays in telling these tales. On the return portion of tense trip together, a teenage son volunteers to take the wheel of the car. "You don't know how to drive," his father says, to which the son replies, "I don't know if you were paying much attention on the way up here, but neither do you." This heartfelt collection ends with the line, "Oh, you and your doubts." Perfect! --John McFarland, author