After two decades, Lore Segal, beloved for her novels Other People’s Houses and Her First American, has finally published a new book, Shakespeare’s Kitchen. Although the 13 stories stand alone as brilliant distillations of everyday life, each is told from the perspective of various members of the Concordance Institute, a stuffy Connecticut think tank.
The character linking most of the pieces is Ilka Weisz, a new professor who must navigate fresh friendships, overeager students (she’s pursued, relentlessly, by a Viennese woman in her conversational English class), and her own ambivalence about a love affair. Most of the conversations, lubricated with plenty of booze, occur in the kitchen of Institute director Leslie Shakespeare over Sunday breakfasts, long dinners, and cocktail parties: ”Eliza, tossing and tasting the salad, elaborated a very tall tale that Winterneet topped with a deliciously nasty quip. Ilka wanted to play with them, up there, in the middle air, but the palpitation of her heart preempted her breathing.”
Despite some cataclysmic events (from birth to death), the debates and discussions that shape Segal’s stories border on the mundane: Who stole the electric pencil sharpener from the Institute office? Who is going through the Shakespeares’ garbage? Segal’s crystalline prose elevates even the most banal workaday details into art. A