Foreword Reviews

A Little of This/A Lot of That

Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5

Rich and expressive, the short stories in A Little of This/A Lot of That inspect the microcommunities of 1910s Jewish New York and a small Southern town.

Robert Joseph Foley’s book of experimental short stories A Little of This/A Lot of That explores the experiences of Jewish-Christian interfaith relationships and communities.

The book is comprised of sixteen stories; the first and last are individual tales, and the middle fourteen are interconnected tales that read more like a novel. These Steltzer Stories make up the bulk of the book and follow Yolanda Steltzer, her parents, and her husband and son. A few years after her father’s death, and on the night her zealous, frenzied mother’s house burns down, Yolanda reads letters that her father, Sammy, wrote, detailing formative experiences from his youth in Romania and as a Jewish immigrant in New York City in the early 1900s.

The often sexual, sometimes violent events that Sammy discusses show Yolanda that she knew much less about her parents than she thought. Sammy is swept up in the schemes of raucous, bohemian New Yorkers, and he tries his best to be a good person, even when he’s pulled into a role as a gigolo or is dealing with his wife’s challenging personality.

The last two Steltzer stories stand apart from Sammy and Yolanda’s novel-like section. Narrated by Yolanda’s husband when he was young, “Danny’s Story” is a misadventure about an afternoon when a bout of intestinal disturbance caused Danny to tell a series of increasingly humorous, convenient lies. Its relation to the other Steltzer stories is minor; when taken separately, it is an entertaining trip through secondhand embarrassment.

The first piece in the collection, “The Story of Rupert Chrome,” is a novella-length Southern Gothic-style tale about the close-knit town of Equity Falls and the incident that tore its inhabitants from their deep-rooted Christian faith. Shortly after a stranger moves to Equity Falls and integrates himself into the community, young boys begin to go missing. This outsider, who provided money to help the town and especially the church grow, is their major suspect, but suspicion toward others leads to a breakdown of individual and collective religious devotion.

The plot of “The Story of Rupert Chrome” falls to the wayside in favor of world building. Unflinching, detailed language describes every inch of the small town of Equity Falls, including the clothing, voices, and mannerisms of its inhabitants. These depictions do not contribute much to advancing the story, though they are expansive and absorbing. The dialogue—except when phonetic spellings disrupt comprehension—makes the story immersive, though some characters’ long digressions are diversions from the plot.

Other stories, too, contain exhaustive details, bogging them down and slowing their paces, though also deepening emotional connections to their characters, especially Sammy Steltzer. The prose is alternately eloquent and dense; it is sometimes unwieldy.

Relationships take center stage in each story. Yolanda and her mother Fritzie’s tense disharmony comes to a head when Yolanda confronts Fritzie about changes she made to the letters, revealing the concealed love that Fritzie uses to protect her daughter; the upheaval of Yolanda’s perception of her parents explodes her life, affecting the way she interacts with her family in the future.

Rich and expressive, the short stories in A Little of This/A Lot of That inspect the microcommunities of 1910s Jewish New York and a small Southern town.

Reviewed by Aimee Jodoin

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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