I’ve often imagined that the worst minor tragedy I might experience, short of passing a kidney stone, would be to see my first novel trashed by The New York Times Review of Books. Fortunately, healthy kidneys and the inability to produce a first novel have kept me two steps short of those reality shows. Sans a best-seller muse, I still find myself writing shorter pieces.
Every now and again, some of my short-fiction collections are reviewed in “respectable” journals and newsletters. To wit: MethO.D. (Aardwolf Publishing, 2006) ? which featured art contributions by Jim Steranko, Bill Messner-Loebs, Al Milgrom, Steve Lieber, Paty Cockrum, Michael Nezter, and Jordon Raskin, as well as an introduction by Peter David — was recently recommended by The Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter (vol. XXVI, No. 1, Sept./Oct. 2006). “Clifford Meth’s latest anthology of 13 stories is a worthwhile read, though the tone of many of his pieces can be disturbing,” writes Steve Bergson. “Among the range of subjects and themes that can be found in these brief narratives are?power brokering in the Lubavitch movement.”
Those vaguely familiar with Chabad-Lubavitch may be under the impression that the movement comprises little more than the overzealous followers of the late, great Lubavitcher Rebbe, z’tl. Sadly, some of the actions of some of the Rebbe’s “representatives” are not exactly (you’ll forgive the expression) kosher. So on several occasions, I’ve written about these snake oil salesmen in the same spirit that Swift wrote of the rascals of his day. Satire, after all, is the only thing that separates us from the theo-dogmatists.
“Some of [Meth’s] stories are told realistically,” Bergson continues, “while others mix in fantasy or science-fiction elements when one least expects it?[recommended] for the General Adult Fiction section of public and university libraries.”
Not exactly a glowing review but it beats a sharp stick in the eye or a Swiftian kick in the maracas.
Enter Leslie Monchar, a librarian at the Joseph Kushner Yeshiva and hand puppet to Asher Herson, the charismatic curator of Chabad of Northwest New Jersey. Monchar, I’m told, has begun writing to librarians to decrease the possibility of their shelves carrying MethO.D. “Members of my congregation are wondering why you would recommend Cliff Meth’s book, MethO.D. to anyone!” writes Monchar in an official letter to Bergson. “Though I have not read his work, I was told that the language is obscene throughout, and the topics are vulgar and disgusting. The rabbi he ridicules is our congregational rabbi, and the people he wishes to kill are my fellow congregants.”
Though I have not read his work, she says.
“[Meth’s] hatred of the rabbi,” Monchar continues, “is as well known as it is irrational. What great merit did you see in his writing?”
The fact is my book never mentioned Monchar’s rabbi. I did write a fantasy piece (illustrated by Paty Cockrum) about a miraculous canine creature who becomes the head of a Chabad Center in Rockaway, NJ, and urinates on his congregation. The story is called “Wagging the Rebbe.” Any similarities to Chabad rabbis urinating on their congregations is purely coincidental.
Bergson’s cogent reply: “I have a bit of a problem with reviews by proxy by people who haven’t actually read the books/stories,” he tells Monchar “I would have been inclined to believe that [Meth] is 100% anti-Lubavitch, but when I read his ‘I, Gezheh’ years ago, I paid close attention to what he wrote as a one-line commentary preceding the story: What Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (zt’l) was, and what Lubavitch has become, are opposites. I will always regard this as one of the great tragedies of my lifetime? His language is, at times, vulgar and obscene. Such descriptions have also been made about the works of Jewish writers Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Mordecai Richler, but today all three are lauded by many critics, librarians and readers (Jewish and non-Jewish) as being among the best Jewish satirists of the 20th century? I don’t think Meth actually wants to kill anyone and that’s quite a provocative charge to make?”
Kill anyone? One can only assume that Monchar, the torch-wielding librarian poised to burn books she hasn’t read, is referring to “The Man Who Hated Lubavitchers,” a story illustrated by Michael Netzer that informed individuals recognize as homage to the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The protagonist in my story discovers that Jews are being replaced by alien creatures who call themselves Lubavitchers. So he whacks a few. All in good fun, of course.
“[Meth is] one of the few writers to casually blend Jewish storytelling with science-fiction/fantasy,” writes Bergson. “I think that if abuse/misuse of power is something that is going on in the Lubavitch community, then someone should be writing about it.”
As for the “religious leader” in Rockaway, I don’t hate him. I genuinely admire his shrewdness. It ain’t easy fooling so many of the people so much of the time.
Unless they’re dolts. Or wastrel librarians who don’t read books.
© 2004, Clifford Meth