New York 1, Tel Aviv 0

1117_001The Short Version: Stories about relationships, mostly romantic ones and many with an eye towards what it is to be displaced – from your home, your life, your lover’s bed, or something else entirely.

The Review: It has taken me a while to write this review. It’s not because I didn’t like the book – I didn’t dislike it, at least – but rather because it felt so ephemeral. Few of the stories really hit home, many more didn’t hit at all – and those that were my favorites barely hung on. But I don’t think it has anything to do with Ms. Oria’s writing – or at least it isn’t all down to her writing.

The title story, which opens the collection, sets a particular tone. The narrator is a young woman who has moved to New York from Tel Aviv after finishing her military service and who is now ensconced in a mutually-acceptable three-way relationship. They hang out in New York and lead emotionally complicated but not particularly trying lives. There is a heavy dose of the literary scene. And, in the end, this “new normal” of a three-person-relationship ends up (SPOILERS) not really working out at all – she and the male were both just in love with the other woman.
It all feels like an episode of a webseries or something, the sort of webseries your too-hip friend tells you to watch and then shakes their head when you finally start after its all over – and everything about Oria’s collection strikes me as having that level of New York hipness about it.

The other thing that’s daubed heavily over this connection is Israeli identity – not just Jewish identity, but Israeli Jewish identity. Being as far from religious (in any direction) as I am, I’m always a little wary when a text wears its religious identity on its sleeve. I don’t have a problem with a writer exploring said identity; I just rarely want to read stories that have it so heavily a part of their telling. As such, I drifted towards the stories that had little to no religious identity and rushed through the others, even as good as they sometimes were.

“Wait”, the second story, and “The Thing about Sophia” were the two stories that I suppose I enjoyed the most. The first has a light Aimee Bender/Karen Russell-esque spin with an impenetrable fog covering part of the town (which I just immediately assumed as San Francisco but for no reason other than the fog bit) while the latter is a really true look at what it’s like to be in love with a magnetic and selfish person, to warp your life to fit the needs and desires of someone who is perhaps too much themselves to actually care for another person. I’d wager most of us have been in a relationship like that, or at least dated someone like that, and Oria nails it. The Palahniukian repetition of the title phrase provides an urgency of explanation, as though the next time the narrator thinks “but the thing about Sophia”, she’ll figure it out. I can relate.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5. I just wish I could’ve related to more of the stories in the collection, overall. For the most part, I found myself skimming – because there was little new or engaging here. The stories are well-written, although they wear their author’s Israeli identity aggressively at times, but they felt like pieces from a club I haven’t been invited to yet: the New York (specifically Brooklyn) young-writer “scene”. I’m a young writer in New York and am certainly part of the literary scene… but there’s a little too much effort put into “being literary” here. When Oria relaxes and just writes something for fun, it shows: the story grabs you. The others, they don’t grab as much.

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