The stories in Jerry Levy’s collection, “Urban Legend,” are at times both eloquent and graceful, but more often his writing comes off as tough-minded and arresting. His relentless pursuit to get inside the heads of his characters gives his work a psychological edge.
There is the man who, devastated by the death of his fiance, enlists the aid of a rabbi schooled in Kaballah to help him erect a golem in her image; a woman who, unable to find work with her liberal arts degree, decides to rob banks; a woman who slowly drives her manipulating boyfriend mad, or the sculptress about to commit suicide who rescues a cat from a busy highway and instantly gains notoriety. Or, as in Stolen Words a man called to clean up the apartment of a woman he barely knew, discovers a treasure trove of unpublished literary works that he hopes will send him on the road to fame, and in The Scarf as a man with high aesthetic values, down on his luck, steals an expensive scarf from a law firm and sets out to find the owner.
Always, Levy’s writing is smart and clear, driving his stories ahead with well-paced action and a penchant for capturing the aggressive vigour of people engaged in emotional havoc.
There’s one really important reason why I don’t normally read collections of short stories. The problem with most collections is that all of the stories sound alike. It sounds like the same voice even when there are supposed to be completely different characters. That was the biggest issue I had with this book. All of the characters sounded identical. In fact, I had trouble distinguishing between the male and female characters.
Most of the characters were writers of some kind, which always surprises me in a novel because it makes me wonder how much of the characters are based on the author. It’s not a bad thing, but personally, I find it distracting. There was also a common element of religion throughout the stories, which probably made them sound even more similar. I did have a couple of favourites, but none of them stood out for me.
Usually, I love to support Canadian authors and I feel sentimental about their novels, but this book just fell flat for me.