The Bed Moved: Stories
The Bed Moved: Stories By Rebecca Schiff (Knopf, 160 pp. $24.95)
“The bed moved,” the first piece in Rebecca Schiff’s debut short story collection of the same title, is barely 15 paragraphs long. It captures the thoughts of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood sounding off about her lovers:
“Spring was here. Jake was there. Also Josh. One dancer-anthropologist dropped anthropology, just did dance. He danced with honors. ‘Mazal tov,’ I said.”
At times witty, at times laugh-out-loud funny, Schiff’s 23 stories bring a modern-day perspective to topics like adolescence, death, sex and being a bissel Jewish. Why the title? “The bed moves because movers move it,” Schiff said in an interview. “So we have a character who may be forced to grow up or move against her will.”
Sharp, sly and irreverent, Schiff is akin to Lena Dunham in her rendering of the contemporary short story—brave, uninhibited, sexual, opinionated and brash. Moreover, she is unimpressed by politics and by what society offers.
In these stories, what is surely shocking to those who came of age in the late 20th century is commonplace today, especially when involving sex and drugs. Do you know where your grandchildren are? In college? Schiff, defining a generation that grew up with the Internet, may be telling us something about the nonacademic part of their lives. In one story, a character sends an email that says: “We used to call it the World Wide Web, but at some point the world had dropped out. The wide was gone. It was a narrow web connecting us to those who would never love us back.”
Schiff’s characters experience sex in an unexceptional, matter-of-fact way, yet in writing about loss and grief they are honest and blunt. In the unusually titled chapter “https://www.msjiz/boxx374/mpeg,” a young woman whose father has died explores his computer’s search history and discovers a pornographic video of two topless women boxing. It makes us think differently about the father, who is quite complex and quite human, and lets the reader know him on a deeper level than his family did when he was alive.
At the end of “Another Cake,” after all the guests leave her father’s shiva, the narrator watches the video of her bat mitzvah where she had to recite a biblical passage about “cleansing your house of leprosy.” Her father always found religion irrational, and he tells his daughter that the family is going to quit the temple right after her ceremony. “The rabbi is so pompous,” said the father. “People kept getting sick, and someone had to tell them how to clean and quarantine so they would stop transmitting disease. It’s not moral decay, it’s common sense!”
In “Write What You Know” (advice for new writers), the narrator says, “I only know about parent death and sluttiness. What else do I know? I know about the psychology of Jewish people who have assimilated, who dye their hair, who worry about bizarrely specific allergies…. I know about liberal guilt and sexual guilt and taking liberties sexually, even though I haven’t actually done any of the liberties I know about.”
Each of these tart stories stands on its own, and not every one is a gem. Perhaps they don’t precisely define the current young generation or revolutionize the short story format. But they certainly present an auspicious and ambitious beginning for an intriguing writer.
Stewart Kampel was a longtime editor at The New York Times and regularly reviews books for Hadassah Magazine.