Leonard Michaels is a must read!

by Britt

I had never heard of author Leonard Michaels until this past year and discovered there are many who have not heard of him either. He is now one of my favorite writers. Read on and find out why.

          the nachman stories from the collected stories of Leonard Michaels

          The nachman stories by Leonard Micheals presents the reader with an incomparable voice and sense of style. Using highly realistic backgrounds, whether the narrative is set in Germany or LA, Nachman’s voice is at turns consolatory, sharp, and can be heartbreaking, but his style is predominately colored by his compassion for his characters, their choices, and the situations they allow to develop around themselves.
          What I love most about Michaels writing is you don’t get a sense that he’s pulling any punches. If he knows, the readers will too, if he doesn’t, they’re both out of luck. His prose flows with a certain conscious musicality, rhythm and repetition, with popping tight sounding syllables texturing tense or vibrant scenes, or snaky sounds lending a sense of fluidity and floating calm, to drive the story forward.

          Micheals presents his readers with an interesting creation, Nachman, a character who is both appealing and unsettling. Nachman – a mathematician, a professor and doctor, a man who, when approached by others, is regularly referred to as a “genius” responds by saying “I’m a good mathematician. Good is rare enough”(392). He is humble with his work yet his actions at times can shock the reader.
          Micheals presents us with a complex character – a man set in his ways, living inside the world of math, yet at times, Nachman walks a wobbly line, which the reader does not see coming. For example, Nachman keeps going back to his hair stylist Felicity even though he doesn’t like the way she cuts his hair. “In short, approximately every two months, Nachman married Felicity Trang for about forty-five minutes (369).” We know Nachman likes his routines and is somewhat neurotic. Felicity is consistent and reliable and because of that Nachman keeps returning. But it is when “Nachman to the first power was becoming Nachman to the second, an entirely different creature, a stranger to himself, the agent of potentiality. His hand jerked spasmodically and seized Felicity’s upper thigh, just below her crotch” (373) – that we see him erupt from his shell. Nachman allows Micheals to explore the complex relationships a person has with their world, no matter how familiar it becomes to them, and the strangeness and unpredictability of the human animal.

          In the Leonard Michaels’ story of mystery there is not end setting is used to great effect. The physical landscapes that act as the backdrop for the physical action are also inextricably linked to the character’s mind. Nachman is faced with a dilemma after accidently spotting his “best and oldest friend” Norbert’s wife kissing another man. His perceptions of himself and his concurrent thoughts and situation color his notice and regard of his immediate environment. He projects his moods onto the environment like a transparent real-scale map, turning the world around him into a physic landscape that reflects his own emotional and psychological state. His word choice clearly illustrates him connecting his own situations meaningfully with the rather incidental events occurring in the world outside of him.
          “Late- afternoon light, filtered by the leaves of an avocado tree outside his bedroom window, glowed on the pine floor and trembled like the surface of a pond. It was a beautiful and deeply pleasant light, but the roots of the magnificent avocado tree had been undermining the concrete foundation of Nachman’s house for years. He thought about that almost every day. Sooner or later, he would have to choose between the tree and the resale value of the house” (379).

Leonard Michaels short story collection has a permanent place on my book shelf.

© Brittany DiGiacomo 2014