Fat Books & Thin Women


Story Sunday: Nathan Englander’s “Free Fruit for Young Widows”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

Nathan Englander’s “Free Fruit for Young Widows” is a story that takes in a father-son relationship, an opaque but long-running friendship (of sorts) between two men, the concentration camps of World War II, misplaced loyalties, and how cruelty and wrongness can shape a person throughout life – without ever seeming to take on too much.

The story’s framing structure is that of a father-son relationship, centered on a family-run produce stand. The owner of the stand, Shimmy, gives produce for free to war widows, and to one man, Professor Tendler. Shimmy’s son, Etgar, knows little of Professor Tendler except that one day, during the 1956 Sinai campaign, he shot four Egyptian men who had mistakenly sat down at the wrong table for lunch – the table where his father, Shimmy, sat eating. He knows, too, that Tendler then beat Shimmy to a pulp, so much so that when Shimmy and the four dead Egyptian men were found “it was the consensus that a pummelled Shimmy Gezer looked to be in the worst condition of the bunch.”

What Etgar wants to know, what we spend the story learning, is why Shimmy gives free produce to this man who beat him, to this man who shot four Egyptian men dead though it was not clear they had any intention to do harm to Etgar’s father – or that they even realized he was not one of them. (Soldiers in both the Egyptian and Israeli armies wore identical French-supplied uniforms.) As Etgar ages, Shimmy begins to tell him more of the story, Englander masterfully describing this father-son relationship and the way stories are passed down, developed, made anew. Professor Tendler’s story, after all, does not start with shooting the four Egyptian men, but years and years before, when he hid for days under a pile of dead men at a concentration camp, emerging only when sure that the newly arrived soldiers were American. Englander pushes us to consider how this man was formed; whether he was even meant to emerge from that pile of dead bodies when he did, and how differently his actions can be read based on the degrees of his story known by the listener.

Englander, by the way, has a new collection of stories coming out February 7th, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Read “Free Fruit for Young Widows” online

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If you’d like to join in to this weekly meme and run your own posts about short stories, available for free online reading, email story.sundays@gmail.com. We’d love to have you!

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