Kirkus Review: Not Book Club Material | January 19, 2021

A collection offers short stories that blend truth and fiction.

In a prefatory note, Zevy warns readers of his tendency toward literary embellishment, the untidy merger of remembrance and invention, resulting in tales “of both imagination and lived experiences mixed together to delight and entertain.” Sometimes, a flight of fancy is obvious—for example, in two stories the Angel of Death is a principal character, described in a gamesomely comic manner that typifies the author’s style throughout this volume: “He has the requisite goatee and a cowlick which looks like it is held down by gel. He is wearing khakis and a button-down shirt. If I didn’t know he was the Angel of Death I would have guessed he was an assistant manager at Whole Foods.” When the Angel of Death unexpectedly shows up for dinner and allows the narrator to resurrect someone, the man randomly blurts out the name of Italo Svevo, the Italian novelist. Zevy’s signature devices are the hazy amalgamation of fact and fantasy and the disruption of the quotidian by the jocosely absurd. The author discusses bird-watching, the life of a germaphobe before the pandemic, stamp collecting, and food—he’s at his best proving that the extraordinary exists within the ordinary. Readers will be drawn into these largely brief vignettes, and the line of demarcation between the real and the imagined will cease to matter. In fact, the audience will learn to embrace the messy mixture.

Zevy is a keen observer of others; one of the most memorable depictions here is of his father, an intellectually gifted man with depths that cannot be fully plumbed. During a youthful soccer game, he pulls a coach aside and renders him counsel that leads to a victory. When asked what advice he offered, he replies: “The 1956 Hungarian national team. The Magyar formation.” Other times, the author turns his gimlet eye to the times—here, he reflects on what is irretrievably lost in this age of technological convenience: “The internet has taken a little mystique out of collecting stamps and coins. Because everything is available. You aren’t really collecting. You are acquiring. Your collection can be as big as your bank account allows. There doesn’t seem to be any sport or skill to it.” All the stories have the tenor of an intimate confidence—minor events are recounted in an informally anecdotal style brimful of lighthearted insights. The compactness of the tales and the uniformity of tone can prove a touch tedious if read in uninterrupted succession. For this reason, Zevy’s stories should not be consumed consecutively but as a breezy reprieve from some other preoccupation. As is often the case with memoirs, these tales, however scrupulously factual or not, will be best appreciated by those already familiar with the author. That said, this remains a companionably diverting selection of stories, vibrantly humorous and thoughtfully perspicacious. Those in search of an easy but still engaging work will enjoy these offerings.

A cheerfully funny and astute assemblage of tales.