Elza of Prague: Ten powerful stories by Mel Klein.
Written in the style of Bernard Malamud, the ten stories in this collection are distinctive and cover a wide range of human drama. They include: a nostalgic coming-of-age tale set in the '50s; a shoe store owner who saves an illegal alien to repay a family debt; a cynical politician with a dark secret; a wrongfully convicted boxer's comeback fight; a steamy story with two twists at the very end that change everything twice; a life in descent after the death of a child; an X-rated New York art show; a riches to rags story with an uplifting ending set in Silicon Valley; a hilarious short-short story of a man's plan to spite his overbearing mother in law; and the title piece, a tragic mysterious love story set in the midst of a revolution and a dramatic thirty year search for a lover lost in the roundup after the Prague Spring. . _______________ (Wet Shoes excerpt) The wind had shifted earlier in the afternoon, and now blew from the north, carrying with it sleet and fine dust particles that etched any exposed skin.
The sidewalk was crowded. People, slowed down by icy patches, pushed their way to the subway entrance and shelter from the bitter cold. Their heads bowed to shield their faces, coats pulled tight and scarves wound around their necks, they shoved their gloved hands in their coat pockets and leaned into the wind. They were headed to their drafty apartments in Brooklyn, their tiny houses in Queens, their waterfront condos in Jersey City, yearning for respite from the wind and the cold and the sleet. A thermometer on a bank building read seventeen degrees, but they did not see it because that would have required raising their heads from their bosoms.
The subway steps were treacherous; they juggled briefcases and purses and shopping bags and packages to free up their right hands to grasp the freezing iron handrail. The warm air pumped forward by trains rushing through the tunnels sent drafts up the stairwell thawing them as they descended. Consuela stood in the doorway of a shoe store, sheltered from the sleet, partly out of the wind but not of the cold. Her cotton blouse had short sleeves. She wore a red zippered nylon warm-up jacket that a Spanish- speaking restroom attendant at the library had given her from the lost and found box. On her head she wore a kerchief she'd bought in Guadalajara years ago. Her cotton skirt was soaking wet and frozen in places.
She had no stockings. On her feet were green Keds high top sneakers at least two sizes too large, caked with ice, that she had bought in the Saint Vincent DePaul thrift store for a dollar after her sandals had disintegrated. Consuela watched as the people walked past; no one looked up at her. ______________ (Nu Yu excerpt) Sarah Kessner knew brassieres. Since she was fourteen years old she had sat at a sewing machine stitching together the cups that shaped the bosoms of other women, women she sometimes pictured in her mind. The factory occupied a converted apartment house on Livonia Avenue under the IRT elevated New Lots line, but Sarah rarely heard the trains passing overhead because the train noise was drowned out by the sixty- eight sewing machines on the second floor of Nu-Yu Foundations.
The girls in the cutting room on the third floor listened to the radio between trains, but in the sewing room that was impossible. So for nine hours a day, with thirty minutes for lunch and two ten minute breaks, Sarah occupied her head with her own variations on the stories she read in the Yiddish newspaper riding the same IRT train home. _____________ (Fazoozle excerpt) "If it's a girl you'll call her Bess." "Why should I name my daughter after your mother?" "Because she's a dead relative." "What about Dad's parents? They're dead." "They're not relatives." "They're my relatives. You divorced Daddy, I didn't." "My mother doesn't have anybody else to carry her name." "We'll see, Ma, we have seven months to think about it."
Mel Klein studied writing at Brooklyn College and graduated during the Tet Offensive, the turning point in the Viet Nam War. Whatever career plans he had yielded to reality; after receiving his draft notice, he enlisted in the Air Force, some seven months before the events depicted in Elza of Prague. Mel worked in a military prison, married, got a master’s degree, worked in a civilian prison,worked at the Justice Department, moved to Texas, got a law degree, and hung out his shingle. Mel was counsel to several entertainment companies and produced TV shows and pilots. He wrote screenplays and stories as a passtime. Mel writes in the style of Bernard Malamud, the mentor of his undergraduate mentor, Jonathan Baumbach. After his children grew up and married, Mel turned to writing and teaching full time. He gives master classes and workshops in short story writing. Mel has a novel in the works based on his screenplay The Redheaded Girl -- a story about an old professor, a beautiful woman, an ancient feud, love, lust, hate and The Nobel Prize.