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A Novel Style

C.B. Gavant

Walk into any Judaica bookstore and peruse the fiction shelves, and you’ll notice an intriguing imbalance: a full 80 to 90 percent of the stories are written by females. Why do the few intrepid male fiction writers choose to write novels, and what does their contribution add to the world of Torah literature?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dovid Sussman was entertaining in his home in Israel when his guest’s attention turned to the bookcase. “He pulled one of my novels off the shelf,” Dovid relates, “and said, ‘Hey, this author has the same name as you!’ ” He’s used to this reaction. Though Dovid has written four novels — the most recent, Prime Suspect (Torah Temimah Publications, 2013) — and is a regular contributor to Mishpacha, many people express surprise or curiosity when they find out he’s a fiction writer.   The Male Viewpoint Frum males are a minority in the field of frum fiction, though some distinguished authors were turning out fiction long before the explosion of contemporary frum literature: think Marcus Lehmann and Gershon Kranzler. Those who do write fiction often face an imbalanced audience. “I don’t have any official statistics, but I believe that there are more female readers of fiction than male ones, just as there are more female writers,” says Dovid Sussman. Male fiction writers therefore face unique writing challenges. Not only are they targeting an audience that may include a majority of females, but they also must enter the heads of their female characters and create a realistic portrait of their lives, a tough task for any pen-wielding storyteller who values his trade. “I try to give my writing universal appeal,” Sussman explains. “But I do give my work to my wife to read, and she can tell me if a character isn’t working out right. I also count on my female editors to let me know if a character isn’t acting as feminine as she should be.” Other writers concentrate only on the males in their audience, and leave the rest to work itself out: “People sometimes tell me that my stories are too male-centered,” says Dov Haller, author of the popular Mishpacha serials Sundays @ 10, The Successor, and Rappaport 55, among others. “I know that men read fiction — somebody’s got to be writing for them. I’m mostly catering to men, and I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m not going to do the emotion-heavy plots that women do.” However, Haller admits, a frum male writer does have certain limitations when it comes to his female characters. “I never describe how a woman looks. You have to read about my female characters without knowing their appearance. And I definitely understand my male characters better than I do my female characters.”

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