“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff captures a piece of early 20th century Brooklyn

Note: This the last of the reviews of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees is here, and you can find the other reviews by scrolling down and looking at recent posts on this site, or search by the author’s name in the search bar. 

I didn’t think I was going to get to “Sabbath Wine”, published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 before the SFWA Conference, but author Barbara Krasnoff took that extra step and sent me the link to the online version of the story, which you can find here. I’m so glad she did. “Sabbath Wine” is nothing like any of the other nominated stories. It’s the mildest ghost story you’ll ever read There’s not a scare in the whole tale, but it’s sweet portrayal of dead children and grieving fathers that captures both a certain place and time and a universal truth or two.

Young Malka, a nine-year-old Jewish girl meets a slightly older African American boy, David, on a stoop in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, circa the 1920s. Malka wants to invite David for a Sabbath dinner, which will take some effort to arrange, including convincing her atheist father and finding wine in the middle of Prohibition. David promises that his bootlegging father can provide the wine, and the two families ultimately meet for the Sabbath dinner.

At first, I was impatient with the story. It feels very old-fashioned with its straight-up realism and slow dawdling around in the neighborhood, describing places and pushing out a lot of preliminary dialogue. It is old fashioned. That’s not a crime though, is it? Once I settled my mind down and read to absorb the setting and voices of the characters, I enjoyed the story.

In the end, I took away two things. First, we really do need to remember to read for the pure pleasure of being transplanted to an entirely different place, time, and social structure. These narratives somehow give us a foothold for understanding what people were like during that time in history, and as we move solidly into the 21st Century it feels like it is time to start preserving the voices of the 20th Century.  Second, this is a delightful story, but it hardly qualifies as fantasy or horror. The story is more about the living than the ghosts that inhabit it, and I immediately took the children’s story as a starting point to look for the darkness.

It’s the fathers. My apologies to the author, who probably had no intention of her story being anything else than it is, but my interest was provoked by these two men who have the audacity to drag along their dead children’s ghosts to a new place and keep them around for self-punishment? comfort? companionship? This smells of moral corruption, no? I’m inspired, in the worst possible way, to wonder what happens next.

Thumbs up and 4.25 of 5 stars.


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