But Is He Jewish? and Other Quirky Tales
by Daniel Wolf

"Reflect upon your life, then pursue with vengeance anyone who gave you advice."

This collection of short stories is a protracted stand-up comedy act, complete with various styles. The initial pieces are akin to one-liner jokes, like the first story in which one of two escapees from Alcatraz laments that he didn’t get to row the escape boat. Middle tales elongate and tackle headier topics such as family relationships, dating, and career choices. In several stories, two brothers disagree about everything except that they hate each other.

Most of the stories feature a good dose of irony. For example, a man in “The English Lesson” finally marries a woman who doesn’t complain until she learns English. Only then does she criticize him. In “Exotic Shower Girl,” a young Jewish girl unable to find a use for her college degree finds success as a stripper until she loses her looks in old age. In “Ditch Digger,” a son acts on his father’s injunction to become the best at whatever he does, even digging ditches, only to achieve digging fame to his father’s displeasure. In the next section, a sequence of animal dialogues impersonates human foibles, such as when two lions bicker about hunting.

Each story turns at the end with an unpredictable punchline teasing worldly (and religious) wisdom. Colored cartoon illustrations add visual entertainment and draw attention to the stories’ playfulness. Through an irreverent rabbi and a list of aphorisms, the final selections focus on Jewish words and traits with biting humor. The Jewish tenor of the work does not narrow the audience but widens it with candid and universal self-deprecation. Using his own experience as a teacher, composer, and comedian as fodder, Wolf’s book succeeds in helping readers poke fun at themselves and take life with a grain of salt.

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