Cohen: Everything is confusing
photo: Ahron Weiner

Imagine I.B. Singer's Elders of Chelm reassembled to issue yet another of their improbable edicts: No story about the Holocaust shall or shall not be written. The story has been exhausted by the Jewish inscription compulsion or the story has not been exhausted because it cannot be inscribed. Either way, it remains inadequately unrecorded and so the writing must continue. The Elders left undecided the fate of post-post-Holocaust fabulist (and Voice contributor) Joshua Cohen. He so precisely transcribed the very substance of the edict that they simply closed the books on him.

Cohen's slender tales begin with a book big enough to hold them 30,000 times over: 6 million blank pages, "pure, virgin white, like the snow around Auschwitz." If this sounds maudlin, it is. The blasphemous Hegelian synthesis Cohen's continually undertaking puts the balm of his irrepressible lyricism on the ancestral wound. It's difficult, as the writer-narrators often admit, not to pile on the prose bandages too thick. "This is not Anne being Frank," one writes about the sacred blank book. This is not the artless hand of the witness, but rather that of the crafty successor, with the burden of bearing only secondhand anguish. Our fathers have told us too much, or not enough at all. Either way, the stories pile up, all too lovely swaths of them.

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