Friday, April 6, 2018

Golems, Mitzvahs, and a burning bush

The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook

Maxwell Bauman

CLASH Books 

December 12, 2017

4 stars

Upon reading the last page of The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook and putting it down, I began to mull over the lack of multi-cultural influences and references in Bizarro literature. Frankly, it is not a genre that encourages the liberal use of ideological, ethical, or religious references. Its surrealism and its tendency to stretch imagery to unbelievable levels don't always gel well with presenting ideas and humor of a down-to-earth ethnic and cultural nature. Yes I sure there are exceptions but none jump out at me immediately.

Except for Maxwell Bauman. The author has presented a sort of "cookbook" on how to meld the traditions of Judaism into the passages of horror and Bizarro. Here are a half dozen tales all centering around Jewish culture and traditions and all unique. Hail the birth Kosher Bizarro!

It is that weird and bizarre turn on Jewish myths and traditions that make the collection. The first story, "When the Bush Burn" is a take on Noah and the burning bush without Noah and that particular type of bush. "The Messiah in New York" is all about the coming of the Messiah. Unfortunately he gets a little carried away with the raising of the dead. "You've Lost That L'Chaim" Feeling" takes place in 1831 is both a love story and a ghost story. It's has a clever winsomeness for its rather Orthodox setting ("Granted, all the girls looked that way for modesty's sake, but something about Isha made Chaim hot under the yarmulke"). It also tells us what what spirits do for kicks. It's my second favorite piece of short fiction in the book.

"The Leviathan Blues" is about the Creation. It is the saddest story of the collection, sad and beautiful. The title story of this collection is just what is should be, a recipe or more accurate a set of instructions. It might come in handy if you ever need to make a Golem when the Nazi hordes invade.

The gem of the book though is "Baphomitzah", involving two twins who are about to have their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It's a funny and eventually horrific tale of becoming 13 and being a insecure middle class Jewish girl with a touch of evil...or is it just teenage angst?... in her. It alone is worth the price of admission.

Themed collections based on ethnic or religious themes, rise or fall on the ability to install an authentic sense of culture in the stories. You wouldn't think that is easy when you are writing horror and Bizarro but these six stories succeed quite well. The short fiction is also less enmeshed with the usual excesses of horror and surrealism found in this genre. This book would actually be good for those reader who just want something different and not necessarily caught up in genres. I am not sure The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook would be rabbi approved but Maxwell Bauman should certainly be pleased with his finished product.

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