Suspend Your Disbelief

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Stories We Love: "Body Count"

Pale_of_Settlement_C_op_412x600[1]I adore all of The Pale of Settlement (2007), a collection of linked stories by Margot Singer that won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction. I’ve reread the entire book. But the story that I’ve returned to most often—many times—is “Body Count.”

Initially published in Prairie Schooner (and therefore available online to those with JSTOR access), “Body Count” presents us with a protagonist who appears across the collection: Susan Stern. In 2002, Susan, an American-born Jew with close family in Israel, is living in New York, working in a newsroom. “In the morning, she pulled the news stories off the wire,” the story begins, and we soon learn that among these news stories are some about what is now called “the Battle of Jenin.” If you don’t recall this episode, you can look it up easily enough.

Or you can read “Body Count.”

“Body Count” not only does an extraordinary job interweaving “the political” with “the personal”—in this case, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on a contemporary conflict that continues to evoke in me reactions similar to those that we see in Singer’s protagonist—but it is also an excellent example of so many other types of fiction that I’m drawn to: fiction situated in the workplace, fiction about Jews in America, fiction that takes on big, complicated questions—even within the compressed space of a short story. “Body Count” is a story that I will keep rereading, and learning from, for a long time to come.

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