“Krauss imbues her prose with authoritative intensity. In short, her work feels lived … The strange urgency of Krauss’s art … continues to haunt a reader’s mind and heart.” The Washington Post

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“Each story is masterfully crafted and deeply contemplative, barreling toward a shimmering, inevitable conclusion, proving once again that Krauss is one of our most formidable talents in fiction.” Esquire

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I haven’t read a ton of short stories (I did love We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes), but I was excited to read To Be a Man (Harper) by Nicole Krauss because I adored one of her earlier novels, The History of Love. With beautiful writing and rich, complex characters, Krauss manages to fit it all into each story of this lovely collection.

Influenced by history and her personal connection to Israel, Krauss addresses what it is to be a man through sex, power, passion, violence, self-discovery and aging. Her characters exemplify human weakness and strength, whether they are lovers or strangers. One of my favorite stories, called “Zusya on the Roof,” is about a man who virtually died and then came back to life while in the hospital. He recovered from his illness enough to make it back home just in time to attend his grandson’s bris. He carried the weight of the Jews from years past, and although he had the desire to impart sound advice to his grandson before the ceremony, he was overwhelmed with the responsibility and his mind drew a blank. Another favorite, “Future Emergencies,” was written by Krauss in the months following 9/11 but remains relevant today. It is about a couple living in NY and hearing on the radio that everyone must wear a gas mask. Protection was needed yet they were not told what the threat was. They stocked up at the grocery store and were provided instructions on how to seal up the windows. People were walking around town in fear with masks. Wow, this story was more true to life than I’m sure Nicole Krauss ever imagined when she was writing it.

Each of these layered short stories presents interesting characters, relationships and circumstances, and I wished many of them would have continued on. My book group enjoyed To Be a Man and had an engaging conversation. We talked a bit about Nicole Krauss and her relationship with her ex-husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. There is much to say about the fine line between love and violence, freedom and pain, and the ongoing power shift between men and women. I definitely recommend this short story collection.

To Be a Man is available for purchase.

Photo by Goni Riskin

Nicole Krauss is the author of the international bestsellers, Forest Dark, Great House, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Orange Prize, and The History of Love, which won the Saroyan Prize for International Literature and France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger and was short-listed for the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes. Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. In 2007, she was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and in 2010, she was chosen by The New Yorker for their “Twenty Under Forty” list. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, and The Best American Short Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty-seven languages. She is currently the first Writer-in-Residence at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. To Be a Man is her first collection of short stories.