The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six by Jonathon Keats

This short story collection goes on sale tomorrow.  I received a reviewer’s copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

The stories are bookended by a fictional foreword and afterword.  The foreword is a good introduction to this collection.  Jay Katz, the fictional author, sets out to find the identities of the Lamedh-Vov after finding a parchment with names in a synagogue excavation site.  The Lamedh-Vov are thirty-six individuals that keep the world from spiraling into chaos.  Their presence brings balance to the world.  They are ordinary people living ordinary lives.  Katz travels for a year collecting the stories of the individuals.  During that year he collected one story for every month.  His plan is to disappear and collect more of the stories.  The afterword is supposed to provide substantiation to the disappearing act.

The stories themselves are fables or parables.  Most probably aren’t appropriate for a younger reader due to their sexual content.  Two stand out stories are “Dalet The Thief” and “Heyh The Clown”. 

Dalet puts forth the minimum amount of effort to practice his trade.  It’s laughable how he repeatedly steals the same items so the owner can retrievethe stolen goods with coins as payment.  Dalet’s encounter with the baker’s daughter results in actions that change the course of the village’s residents.  In this story it’s quite possible there is more than one Lamedh-Vov but Katz has replaced the names of the Lamedh-Vov with letters from the Hebrew alphabet.

Heyh is a clumsy girl who lives with a circus.  She tries to be successful at each task assigned to her but all she meets is failure.  The audience laughs at her mistakes.  In fact, they are pleased to see someone fail so spectacularly that she steals their attention from the other performers.  Heyh recognizes the laughter and attention is not from joy but contempt.  It isn’t until she produces a joyful laugh that she truly becomes a star.

The short stories prove to be a refreshing break from novels with long narratives.

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