Lunar Savings Time
Alex Epstein; translated by Becka Mara McKay
published 2011 • 5 ½” x 7 ¾” • 119 pages
ISBN 9781566568524 • paperback • $15.00 •
"Helen of Troy, a moon launch, Russian literature; these are but a few of the diverse subjects in Epstein's new collection of 99 flash fictions. The stories riff on arch concepts in witty prose, often juxtaposing different realms of knowledge--science and the Bible and contemporary war and serious lit and even autobiography. Few stories run longer than a page, and most are less than a hundred words long. Epstein tackles the subject of writing fiction itself in stories such as 'Metafiction,' which consists of only one line: 'The ghost was still breastfeeding.' Other recurring topics include mythology, rain, and outer space. Indeed, the overlap of these topics indicates a larger pattern at work, and the repetition of themes and 'characters,' such as Aeneas or The Third Reich, rewards reading. 'Three Moons' begins with NASA and the space race and travels through Google, Dante, and World War II to a personal, family memory that beautifully evokes the orbit of the moon. Similarly, 'Three Pieces of Time' has three short numbered parts that mash together homelessness, sci-fi, religion, Borges, and The Trojan War. A consistently provocative collection, best read first in gulps and then in savory sips."
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A new collection from an acknowledged master of flash-fiction
“The short texts of Alex Epstein virtuously echo the great tradition of world literature in a truly original manner, as the tension between the classical and the intuitively improvised creates in the reader’s mind the literary equivalent of a cross between Mozart and Miles Davis.”
“Israel’s new Borges... a master of flash-fiction who distills stories to their aphoristic essence.”
—Jewish Daily Forward
The stories in Lunar Savings Time slip through time and between dreams and waking, between native tongue and elusive translation, long-dead writers and just-opened books. Alex Epstein has created a masterwork in the finest strokes—stories in which humor, stubborn memory, and strange beauty meet and part ways in less than a page. Through these pages journey a woman who travels back in time to visit a psychoanalyst; Kafka, had he lived and emigrated to Israel after the Holocaust; the wandering Cain; the siege of Leningrad; Zen masters, beggars, writers, ghosts. In Epstein’s lyrical philosophy, every imaginative proposition must answer to the burden of history—or perhaps, for every moon, there’s rain; for every love story, the fact of time. “He can be placed next to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Kafka, Borges,” Haaretz has said of Epstein; Lunar Savings Time is his most radical collection yet, a wondrous achievement.
Alex Epstein is the author of seven works of fiction in Hebrew, and in 2003 received the Israeli prime minister’s prize for literature. He has been a fellow at the University of Denver and currently teaches in Tel Aviv. His collection Blue Has No South is also published by Clockroot Books, and his stories have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the Iowa Review, and elsewhere.
Becka Mara McKay is the author of the poetry collection A Meteorologist in the Promised Land and the translator of Alex Epstein’s Blue Has No South.
“A mere 119 pages and yet this thin volume contains 100 short stories. The shortest is five words, none are over three pages and all are weighty in subject, despite the slightness of language and length. Epstein is drawn back to certain topics again and again: rain, time machines, Greek mythology, One Thousand and One Nights and angels, all in prose that moves from subject to subject, line to line, with such dreamlike associations that they can sometimes feel like a series of nonsequiturs. Don't be fooled: everything is here for a reason. Epstein touches on the craft of writing too, particularly the anxiety that comes with feeling like one is expected to finish a novel, whether one wants to or not. Many of these pieces feel reminiscent of Kafka's parables or the fictive essays of Borges and both of these writers actually do appear in the stories. Kafka's turn shows us an alternate version of the influential and world-renowned Czech-Jewish writer. This one doesn't die young, but rather he grows old enough to survive the Holocaust, emigrate to Tel Aviv, work in a bank, marry, start a family and die, in obscurity and unpublished, in 1967. If I've spoiled that story for you, not to worry: there are 99 others that are all worth reading.”
—Richard Rosenbaum, Broken Pencil
"In a world captured so vividly on video, the Israeli author's second collection of flash fiction wrests an enigmatic series of those metaphorical stills from the footage. Epstein ascribes a terrifying power to writing and the short story. Writing is betrayal in this work; writing is insanity. ‘The last man in the world is writing a novel,' pleads ‘Fiction.' Epstein's narrators are prone to contradict everything they have told you thus far, informing you, ‘In any event, this isn't a true story' or ‘This isn't a story at all.' In doing so, Epstein challenges the fashionable omnidisciplinary argument that everything that everything is narrative."
"As I write this, Borders is closing its doors for good, while The Onion has composed a mock obituary for the "Last Literate Person on Earth," dead at ninety-eight. Literary writers, it seems, no longer fret over how to capture the kaleidoscopic reality of the new century, but instead wonder why they should bother trying in the first place. In his latest collection, Lunar Savings Time, Israeli author Alex Epstein has, if not answered these questions, at least illuminated a new path toward the literary amid the detritus of print and digital culture. The picture that emerges from this mosaic of narrative-many not more than a page in lengthy-is by no means bleak. Epstein's very short fictions delineate the enormous imaginative space that is contained within the book-a virtual reality that encompasses past and present, the obscure and the viral simultaneously within its modest pages. The result is alchemy rather than entropy: "And it was winter. The Zen monk updated his Facebook status: ‘In the evening it snowed. In the night I dreamed it was snowing.' And finally, spring: the ghost's water broke." Epstein doesn't bemoan the ephemeral excess of the digital age; his poetic narratives invite the reader to be more attentive for its plentiful (and inevitable) moments of unexpected beauty, as in "On the Writer's Conference": "The writer from the moon has a British accent. He reads a novella set in India. Every time he pronounces the word elephant, the refined audience blushes with pleasure. After him, A Brazilian writer lectures on ‘The Nightlife of the Short Story.' In a plaza outside the auditorium, a young woman plump from love is smoking the last cigarette of the evening. In [a] moment she will throw the butt into the sky."
—Pedro Ponce, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Dalkey Archive Press, Fall 2011 (Vol. XXXI, No. 3)
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