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September 01, 2011 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-09-01

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Eileen Pollack was raised in Liberty, NY, where her father was a dentist.
Her grandparents owned a hotel in nearby Ferndale, the heart of the
Borscht Belt. Some of her experiences growing up at her family's hotel
took shape in The Rabbi in the Attic and Other Stories and Paradise, New
York. Eileen has received fellowships from the National Endowment for
the Arts, the Michener Foundation, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the
Massachusetts Arts Council. Her stories have appeared in journals such
as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly Review SubTropics, Agni,
and New England Review. Her novella "The Bris" was chosen to
appear in The Best American Short Stories 2007, edited by Stephen
King, while her stories have been awarded two Pushcart Prizes,
the Cohen Award for best fiction of the year from Ploughshares,
and similar awards from Literary Review and NIQR. She lives in
Ann Arbor and is the Zell Director of the MFA Program in
Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. This semester,
she's teaching a course in Jewish Comic Fiction.

Breaking & Entering:
Eileen Pollack on Her New Novel

Eileen Pollack's new novel Breaking & Entering was
born in Michigan, in the mid 1990s, where Pollack
was raising her small son. Timothy McVeigh had
just blown up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma
City, and his ties to the Michigan Militia were just
becoming apparent. Pollack was concerned about
bringing up a Jewish child among white supremacists
and Nazi sympathizers, and her fears were not
allayed by reality. One, the host of a hate-fueled
shortwave-radio talk show, Mark Koernke, was an
employee at the University of Michigan—the liberal
institution where Pollack was teaching. As writer
in residence in a high school in Western Michigan,
she discovered that some of the biology teachers
were creationists. She also met a woman who had
just relocated from northern California to a small
Michigan town. The woman reported to Pollack
that the town minister was delivering virulently
anti-Semitic sermons each Sunday. Her husband's
protests had led to the family's harassment, and,
eventually, the old Victorian farmhouse the family
had been fixing up burned to the ground. The
town fire marshal called it arson, but hinted that
the couple had set their own house on fire. The
comment he made was that the husband's Jewish last
name "fit the profile" for people who would set fire
to their house to collect the insurance. That's when
Pollack had the premise of her novel—as well as a
funny visual image of the literal Jewish "profile."

As she learned more, Pollack became curious about
how people so different from each other were
living side by side. (This was, after all, a far cry
from the hegemony of Cambridge, Mass., where
she had lived before coming to Michigan.) "I had
the political idea and now the story of the family
living out the conflict—both sides assumed guilty.
What's interesting when you write fiction, you have
to humanize characters," she explains. "I didn't want
to be an East Coaster coming in and portraying
people as the hicks in Deliverance. I was interested
in how people saw themselves and how they saw

the other. I was asking myself questions like 'How
does paranoia get started? Is there a way to break
through it? What does it mean to be American when
Americans in the same country, state, or town share
SO little common ground?"'

University Of Michigan-
Frankel Center for
Judaic Studies
202 S. Thayer Street

2111 Thayer Building
Ann Arbor, Ml 48104-1608

Executive Committee
Deborah Dash Moore, Director
Maya Banilai
Todd &Kleiman
Anita Norich

The Regents of the
1.1niversity of Michigan

Julia Donovan Darlow
Laurence B. Deitch
Denise llitch
Olivia P Maynard
Andrea Fischer Newinan
Andrew C. Richne.r
S artin Taylor
Katherine E. White
Mary Sue Coleman, ex o

Frankel Institute for Advanced
Judaic Studies

Steering Committee

In writing the novel, she was also working out
another thread, one that examines the two sides of
passion. The characters in her book, after all, feel
passionately about their politics and their religion.
She began to ask herself when passion was actually
good—and when it was destructive. "I started to
think about love and passionate love. Now, self-
help books say passion is bad. But the definition of
passion is unfulfillable love. Traditionally, passion
was what inspired literature and art," she continues.
"It can be very destructive and unhealthy. But you
miss it when it's not there. I thought about the
couple that moved here from the West Coast. They
were now fully developed characters in my novel.
I began to write their lives as a couple who moved
to Michigan because the husband had to get away.
He lands a job as a prison psychiatrist, and his wife
takes a big hit to be with him. He's the son of a
Holocaust survivor and begins to hunt, connecting
with the idea of how his own father survived in the
Polish forests by killing rabbits with his bare hands.
He starts spending time with the Militia, who
seem to like having a Jew with them. They delight
in teaching him their survival skills. He also loves
working at the prison. So his wife feels abandoned,
and she can't get job because she's too liberal. Her
isolation leads to an affair with a Unitarian minister,
who is also very liberal—another facet of passion."

Breaking & Entering will be published January 15, 2012.
Pre-order at Ann Arbor's Nicola's Books or at Amazon.
corn. To whet _your appetite before then, check out The Rabbi
in the Attic and Other Stories; Paradise, New York;
and In the Mouth, for which she is the recipient of the
Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish fiction.
Visit vvwweileenpollack.com for more.

Derek Collins
Maya Barzilth
Todd Endelman
Daniel He_rwitz
Deborah Dash Moore
Anita Norich

Academic Advisory Board

Robert B. Alter
University of Cahifornia-Berkele -y
Jonathan Boyarin
University of North Carolina
Frances Degen Horowitz
City tin iver,sit o1New, York
Michael V.
Paula, Hyman
'ak Univers
Deborah Lipst
Peter Machinist
Harvard Divinity School
Ray Scheindlin
Jewish Theological Seminary,
Kay Kaufman Shelamay
Harvard University
James Young
University of Massachusett
at Amherst -
Steven Zipperstein
Stanford University


Kim Reick Kunoff„ Editor/Layout/

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