The Western Jewish Bulletin about uscontact ussearch
Shalom Dancers Dome of the Rock Street in Israel Graffiti Jewish Community Center Kids Wailing Wall
Serving British Columbia Since 1930
homethis week's storiesarchivescommunity calendarsubscribe

home > this week's story


special online features
about judaism
business & community directory
vancouver tourism tips

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter. Enter your e-mail address here:

Search the Jewish Independent:




July 4, 2003

A triumph of the written word

Daniel Stolar's first collection of short stories depicts life with honesty.

The Middle of the Night
By Daniel Stolar
Picador, New York, 2003. 243 pages. $33

Reality. That's the foundation of Daniel Stolar's first collection of short stories, The Middle of the Night. Leaving fairytale endings to others, Stolar portrays the human condition with an honesty that's comforting.

In life, there are times when we don't say or do the right thing and we never make amends. There are times when we don't know how (or don't want) to accept the death of a loved one. There are times when we want to achieve a closeness with another human being but cannot. Stolar captures these and other moments in The Middle of the Night. While it may sound depressing, it is actually a book that will help readers connect with their own feelings, as well as perhaps better understand the actions of others.

Stolar tackles the issues of social and economic stratification, mourning and renewal. In "Home in New Hampshire," a woman is in an accident that leaves her wheelchair-bound. In "Crossing Over," a Jewish student attempts to pledge a black fraternity. In "The Trip Home," a widower introduces his new partner to his late wife's sister. In "Fundamentals," a man tries to understand his relationship with his father and with his own son.

"The stories really are fiction, but a writer's influences are inescapable," Stolar told the Bulletin in an e-mail interview.

"The demographics of the main character in ["Crossing Over"] are almost identical to my own," he said. "I really did bus tables in a restaurant like that one, I really did play basketball on a similar court with a bunch of black guys (though only a handful of times), I really did transfer to an elite suburban private school, but my parents never divorced, I don't have a 12-year-old son and I wouldn't pledge a black fraternity (or any kind of fraternity for that matter).

"My mom battled breast cancer for 10 years and then died when I was 20 and, yes, that does find it's way into my writing," continued Stolar. "But I think that a writer's influences may often be deceptive."

For example, Stolar, who quit the Yale school of medicine in his third year to pursue a writing career, described the last story in the collection, "Mourning" – about a man dealing with the death of his mother – as being more complex than it appears.

"I think that story is equally about my decision to leave medicine, though there would be no possible way to know that just from reading the story," he said. "The story is about the character's struggle to un-tether himself from something he latched onto when faced with the void of death."

Stolar said he never wanted to be a doctor, but followed that path "because it made sense, because it's a great career that enables people to make real and important contributions to the lives of others, because I had the intellectual and personal abilities to be able to do it well, and because I was too afraid to strike out into the unknown of being an artist."

Raised in the Reform tradition, Stolar said his parents didn't particularly want him to have a bar mitzvah, but, when he saw how proud his grandfather was of a cousin who was then in Hebrew school, Stolar decided that he wanted to follow suit.

"My Jewish characters, like myself, are people who don't consider themselves particularly religious, but who are deeply influenced by their Jewish culture and heritage," he explained.

Currently, Stolar lives in Arizona with his wife, Lauren Cathcart, who is a teacher. About the future, he said he is hoping to try his hand at several different literary forms.

"Career-wise, the logical thing is to try a novel next – it is much more marketable and it seems to be how many writers proceed," he said. "I have a lot of notes and a few scenes written toward a novel, but it would be a stretch to say that I'm very far along. I have a long nonfiction piece called 'Telling People I Went to Harvard' that I'd like to finish."

When asked whether he would describe his characters as people who basically accept what life doles out or as people who try to mold life into how they want it to be, Stolar said that perhaps "the stories represent the characters' progression from the latter to the former. I think there's value in both sides of that equation.

"I'm usually trying to to mold life," he said, pointing to the fact that he left medical school because he wasn't happy, "but I think I'm learning more acceptance."