A collection of interconnected short stories about a Jewish family living in a New Jersey suburb doesn't seem like the ideal manuscript for a publishing house in Portland to put out. But Hawthorne Books printed Scott Nadelson's Saving Stanley in 2004 anyway—and he wound up winning the Oregon Book Award for short fiction. Now, they've released his follow-up, The Cantor's Daughter, another collection of stories, again mostly about Jewish Joisey suburbanites.Nadelson's prose is sturdy but not flashy, almost workmanlike. As a mason lays bricks, he stacks one sentence upon another until slowly, a story emerges. The results are clear and readable, and almost unremittingly depressing, their characters either actively miserable or struggling to project a transparent façade of happiness. In "Model Rockets," a sad sack of a man, Benny, pushes his sad sack of a son away with bitterness and anger. In "Return," an insecure thirtysomething indulges in stories from his worldly traveling days to offset jealousy over his girlfriend's promiscuous past. "We both have pasts," she tells him in one of Nadelson's particularly insightful moments. "You get to enjoy yours, and I have to feel like shit about mine."
The Cantor's Daughter is peppered with deceptively simple ruminations. The collection's best story, "Half a Day in Halifax," follows a man and a woman around a cruise ship as they get to know each other, their glaring normalcy bonding them on a boat full of crazed tourists. At their first meeting, the man puts "out his hand noncommittally, in a way that could have been taken as a wave or an invitation for a shake." To which the woman reacts "slowly, reaching out only as his arm was falling, her fingers brushing his wrist." It's an exquisite physical detail that demonstrates beautifully the thrilling, nervous energy of new love's limitless possibilities. The future, for Nadelson, is a bleak and shaky thing, occasionally fended off in moments of desperate, fleeting hope.