Deal Me In Lite, Week 25: “The Bris” by Eileen Pollack
This week the six of clubs led me to a captivating story from The Best American Short Stories 2007. It's a story of deception and loyalty, of a son’s unwilling but dedicated crusade to honor his father’s dying wishes when no one else will. This is a very long story but I found it easy to read -- it pulls the reader along nicely to a climax that is both predictable and surprising at the same time.
Marcus Sloan's father is dying of liver failure in Boca Raton, Florida. Marcus travels to be with him in his last days, and it is then that his father lays a bombshell on him. Marcus' father, who married into a Jewish family and whom everyone has assumed was Jewish, and who has brought Marcus up as a Jewish boy... is not Jewish.
He's worried about this now because he wants more than anything in the world to be buried next to Marcus' mother in the Jewish cemetery, but there's the little issue (no pun intended) of not being circumcised, which of course marks him as a non-Jew. He recruits Marcus (initially unwillingly) in his crusade to now be circumcised before death, in a last-ditch effort to become a real Jew. The only problem is, no one is willing to help in this process, feeling that it is the height of hypocrisy for his father to want this. Marcus resents the attitude of the rabbi and others unwilling to help his father, because no one could ever have been more "Jewish" than his father was -- except for the procedure he was never able to bring himself to have done.
The entire story is that of Marcus' quest to help his father achieve his goal, so there's not much to tell (or spoil) beyond that in terms of plot. However, this is one of the best stories I have read this year because Pollack beautifully portrays Marcus' conflicting emotions as a son who is forced to confront his feelings for his father and his father's sacrifices through the years, as well as his obligations to his father in his last days. I highly recommend this story if you haven't read it.