“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
At the New York Public Library 26 years ago this month, Frederick Busch received the Jewish Book Council award for best fiction for his Invisible Mending. (This past May, that prize was awarded to David Grossman for his novel To the End of the Land; Philip Roth’s Nemesis was among the finalists). Though the novel was Busch’s ninth, the 43-year-old writer sweated nervously throughout the ceremony, later writing that he worried he’d be denounced as an insufficiently Jewish imposter.
Invisible Mending was Busch’s most intimate exploration of his own Judaism, in which he examined what he viewed as the modern religious obsession with death and candidly considered the legacy of the Holocaust for American Jewry. According to Andrea Crawford, who praised it in Nextbook.org in 2008, Roger W. Straus, Jr., refused to publish the novel, then titled The Outlaw Jew, on the grounds that it was “bad for the Jews,” and the novelist Norma Rosen labeled the main character an “inauthentic Jew” in the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. Busch himself compared the novel’s publication to appearing nude in public, a vulnerable yet provocative act at once deeply personal and shockingly outspoken.
Yet ultimately, Crawford argues, Invisible Mending succeeded. “That novel’s power—its irreverence, tension, humor, and inexorable confrontation with the personal and the historical—moved critics and readers, including the judges for the Jewish Book Council, precisely because it touched upon important questions about Jewish identity, not least for Busch himself,” Crawford writes. Busch later wrote of the award ceremony, “I am afraid that I assumed a pious expression, a kind of nauseous self-renunciation, in an effort to clear any hint of victory from my face—although, I have to confess, I wanted to crow and flap my arms. There were the tensions that for me are this novel’s emblems.”
Read Touchy Subject, by Andrea Crawford
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