The Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories

How to make a Steve Stern story: stir in a large dose of Isaac Singer and early Roth; add a magic pinch of Marquez and Millhauser; shake with enthusiasm; serve in a plastic Marx Brothers cup. Drink deeply while laughing.

The Book of Mischief is the perfect title for this collection of 17 old and new Stern tales full of playfulness, fantasy and a bit of the macabre. Take, for example, the short gem "Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven," which starts with: "My father-in-law, Lazar Malkin, may he rest in peace, refused to die." But he does, eventually, and as he's fighting in a backyard shed with the angel come to take him away, Julius, our narrator, sees "a glimpse of kingdom come."

In the hilarious, masterful "The Wedding Jester," Saul Bozoff is a "bachelor professor of a certain age, squiring his mother to a faded resort half a century past its prime" for a wedding. He is smitten with the beautiful bride, Shelly Supoznik, but then her body is inhabited by the spirit of Eddie Romain, "an alien essence, a dybbuk," the "restless spirit of a dead Borscht Belt comedian." To the guests' amazement and shock, she starts spewing out one-liners, and the tale goes all Sleeping Beauty on us, sort of. Then there's the one about Morton Gruber, czar of a string of lucrative coin-operated laundries, who gets a visit from God. Or there's the one about... stop, stop, this book is filled with classics; there isn't a nebbish (a loser) in the lot. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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