The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


For this Immigrant Experience in Literature class I'm teaching next term I've decided to include two Pittsburgh-centered texts: the classic OUT OF THIS FURNACE and the very recent THE LAST CHICKEN IN AMERICA by Ellen Litman. I learned about Litman's book from a NEW YORK TIMES review (it hasn't received much pub here in the city--odd, since any crap movie or TV show filmed here or even set here even if it has not the vaguest feel for the city gets front-page treatment in the POST-GAZETTE), and read it in an evening. It's a short-story cycle, a series of stories with recurring characters and a constant setting: Squirrel Hill, especially the Russian Jewish immigrant community based there. Few of the stories stand out; they're largely about character and setting and tone, not plot, and so that's not surprising. She clearly knows Pittsburgh inside and out, and I appreciate that. And although my only experience with the Russian Jewish immigrant community came from my years as a member of the Squirrel Hill JCC, where I played pickup ball with at least one ceaselessly obnoxious member of that group and worked out alongside several other much more pleasant ones, I think she's nailed them. Not because I understand them, but because they are fully fleshed characters, alive and real and believable. Litman blogs about her book abnd book tour and in that blog alluded to the hostile reaction that at least one reviewer had to her book on It's a first collection, with the typical faults of a first collection/first novel, but it's also full of her promise: in addition to the features adumbrated above, she's also got a real mastery of short description and striking metaphor.



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