Oria, Shelly. “New York 1, Tel Aviv 0: Stories”, FSG Originals, 2014.
Loyal but Not Belonging
Shelly Oria brings us a collection of short stories that explore the tension between an “anonymous, globalized world and an irrepressible lust for connection”. The stories are character driven and author Oria has created quite a cast. We meet a couple that learns how to stop time when they are together; there is a couple that suffers from a constant loud beeping in their apartment but only one of them can hear; there is a father who leaves his daughter in Tel Aviv so that she can explore a career in painting and we have a sex worker who falls in love with her photographer.
It is the voice of the author that makes this such a fascinating read. Her prose is gorgeous and her writing is like the fresh air of spring and it is sublime in its honesty. The stories here are about displacement, impersonation, identity and not fitting in for whatever reason. Oria uses characters from two different countries, America and Israel and I understand where she is coming from since I am a citizen of both places and have often been asked if there is a war between the two, which side I would support. What is interesting is that those of us who do have this dual citizenship cannot answer that question because it would never happen although I was surprised to see that during the recent Gaza war, many Jews took the side that condemned Israel and did not realize the implications of doing so especially when Hamas publicly stated that is their goal to ride the world of Jew…..not just Israelis but all Jews yet these very same people that took issue with the war and charged Israel with killing innocent Palestinians seem to have forgotten how many “innocent” Palestinians have killed Israelis over the years. We as Israeli/Americans are loyal to both, belonging to neither. This is the theme we see running through all of the stories. It is what we might call a “push/pull of nationality”.
“New York, 1, Tel Aviv, 0” focuses on a restless love triangle between an American named Zoë and two Israelis. The characters straddle worlds without fully inhabiting either, a situation ripe for humor and truth. Zoë can’t commit to anyone for more than five minutes, and the Israelis feel like outsiders – in the relationship and in the world. Ron, the boyfriend, says, “I’ve always felt Israeli in America, but if I went back today I’m sure I’d be the American in Israel.” This constant longing can be felt at the level of language. The narrator admits, “I miss Hebrew sometimes; other times I try to imagine how the words might sound if I didn’t understand their meaning, and I wish that I could listen to them from the outside and choose whether or not to get back in.”
The stories are filled with contradictions just as is life and while they might seem comedic here, the actuality makes them very important. Love lives are concerned with the post-gender period in which we live and they are reflected beautifully here. Our characters struggle with love and loss and we get a peek at how the human heart works. The themes of love, lust and identity are important and we see them fragmented and broken. The world that we live in is often beautiful and often sad, provocative and tender at the same time and not every author has the ability to relate that to readers but this is what this author does best.