Prairie Books NOW Review - A Book of Great Worth

Reviewed by: David Jón Fuller

A piece of advice given to Dave Margoshes at 13 unexpectedly led to a probing series of short stories he's written over the last 27 years. 

"Listen to your father."

This admonition from his mother, upon the young Margoshes's trip to a labour convention his reporter father Harry was covering, ironically took on more meaning. Margoshes didn't merely obey his father while on that trip, he listened - and this experience led him to become a writer himself.

As a journalist, Margoshes has written for newspapers in San Franciso, New York, Calgary, and Vancouver. He's also written poetry, numerous short stories, and several novels. 

In his latest collection, A Book of Great Worth, he blends fact and fiction in stories based on his father's life.

The Jewish communities in early 20th-century New York, Cleveland, and Akron come to life as Harry Morgenstern gets his start as a newspaperman, facing ethical dilemmas such as becoming an advice columnist, helping a rabbi escape scandal, and loaning money to support a unwed young mother.

An ongoing theme is good judgement - or lack of it.

"I don't think I realized that until I put the collection together," says Margoshes, adding that the earliest story was first published in 1985; the more recent ones in 2009 and 2010. 

"It was only in the last few years, when I had written a quite a few of these stories and thought maybe they could be a book, that a theme emerged."

The first was "A False Moustache," about a slightly ridiculous man who deserts his pregnant lover. "My father died in 1975," says Margoshes. "A few years afterwards, I wrote that first story. I don't think it was a deliberate thing, 'I've got to write a story about my father.' But someone's death does that to you; it clarifies your thinking about that person.

Margoshes liked 'False Moustache' because he had based it on a germ of a real person.

"So I wondered if there were other stories my father told me that I could turn into stories."

And indeed there were - Margoshes wrote more of them and realized, "This is a mine worth tapping."

Given the evocative detail of each, conjuring up the sights and sounds and smells of the Lower East Side in the 1920s and '30s, one has to ask: how much is real, how much made up?

"No one writes a memoir that is 100 per cent accurate," says Margoshes. "No one can accurately recall dialogue, for example. So memoirs are all ficitionalized to some extent." 

While most of these stories have their start in a real event, Margoshes maintains, "They're all fiction. I wanted not to create a hybrid, but to create a fiction that felt like a memoir, that had that authenticity to it."

He adds that while his father's family is somewhat far-flung, and the generation that might have been most interested in these stories has passed on, he's curious to see the reception this kind of family mythmaking will have. 

"I feel this book is kind of special, more than some of my other ones. Whenever a book comes out, you have high hopes, but for this one I think my hopes are a bit higher."

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