Barbara Klein-Muskrat Then and Now
stories by Sharon Abron Drache

Print: 978-1-926708-85-0
ePub: 978-1-926708-86-7
PDF: 978-1-771331-05-0

192 Pages
October 01, 2012
Fiction All Titles Novel


Barbara Klein-Muskrat Then and Now stories by Sharon Abron Drache

The interrelated stories of this pseudo-memoir introduce readers to Barbara Klein-Muskrat, a successful author of fiction and freelance book reviewer. Spanning some thirty years in her personal and professional life, Barbara irreverently acquaints readers with her challenges related to her schizophrenic literary career, divided between writing fiction and reviewing it. The result is an outrageous satirical romp that calls to mind Philip Roth and Dorothy Parker.

As Nathan Zuckerman faithfully serves as alterego to Philip Roth in his Nathan Zuckerman books, Barbara Klein-Muskrat weaves fictional tales, at times borrowing the colouring and location of memoir. Like Dorothy Parker shouted at the top of her voice, Barabra Klein Muskrat is endowed with a zany, exaggerated theatricality. And yet Barbara Klein-Muskrat remains a unique summation of her own idiosyncrasies, which include fierce loyalty to family and friends, a relentlessly frustrating gullibility, and a stubborn determination to defend at all costs her wacky and unfashionable ethnic and patriotic proclivities.

Barbara Klein-Muskrat, Then and Now

Sharon Abron Drache has published four books of adult fiction: three collections of short stories, Barbara Klein Muskrat - Then and Now, Inanna Publications and Education Inc. (2012), The Golden Ghetto, Beach Holme (1993), The Mikveh Man, Aya Press (1984) and one novel, Ritual Slaughter, Quarry Press (1989). Ms. Abron Drache has also published two books for children: The Magic Pot (2003), L'Dor Vador Publications, a picturebook (ages 4-8) and The Lubavitchers Are Coming to Second Avenue (2006), L'Dor Vador Publications, a chapter book (ages 9-11). As a literary journalist she has written book reviews and feature articles for national and local newspapers including The Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, Glebe Report and Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. Sharon Abron Drache's fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies including Canadian Jewish Stories, Oxford University Press, 1990 and Listening with the Ear of the Human Heart, 2003.

Herizons Magazine, spring 2014
reviewed by Rachel Carlson

Women aren’t funny, my ass. I offer Sharon Abron Drache’s third collection of stories, Barbara Klein-Muskrat Then & Now, as proof that women are most definitely funny. With sharp satirical wit and her tongue firmly in cheek, Drache tells the semi-autobiographical tales of Barbara Klein-Muskrat, whose career as a creative writer and freelance book reviewer spans over 30 years.

Balancing humour and poignancy, Drache lays bare the familial and cultural tenderness of Klein-Muskrat’s Jewish-Canadian family. In “To Kill the Day,” Barbara’s dead father doesn’t rest in the afterlife but instead takes public transit from the cemetery to his former home. Mama Klein notes that “taking the TTC requires at least three quarters of an hour, whereas with God’s help—this means, my dear Barbara, on the wings of an angel—it takes no time at all—if Papa would come direct. But you know how it is with Papa and God, neither can be trusted to go from A to B, so my preferred mode of transportation for
your father is the reliable TTC.”

With “Civil Disobedience,” Drache lambasts the condescending tone of her philandering ex-husband who offers her advice on publishing. “Gee, Ian, I don’t know what to say. How to thank you. Your generosity for reading my stories, wanting to have sex with me after reading my fiction in the middle of the night, and now, your unexpected concern for the publishing and marketing of my work-in-progress, makes me feel quite nostalgic about us.”

And, as with any great satire, Drache exposes the everyday expression of societal power structures. In “Ruhama Fishbein and Me,” Barbara reflects on cultural conformity: “identical diamond-studded Stars of David adorn our necks…. Since we both have steady boyfriends, their sterling silver I.D. bracelets glisten on our wrists. We belong to these boys, our parents, our religion, and even the stores where our clothes were purchased—who are we anyway?” As Dorothy Parker said, “there’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.” Drache’s wit most  certainly has truth in it.

Critical Acclaim for previous short story collections by Sharon Abron Drache

The Golden Ghetto:

"Sharon Drache deserves to take her place among the (mostly male) pantheon of Canadian humourists. I'd nominate her for the Leacock Medal."
—BCLA reporter/B.C. books

"Drache writes more powerfully of life's enigmas than of its documented graspable elements."
Ottawa Citizen.

The Mikveh Man:

"Drache's use of fantasy calls to mind Isaac Bashevis Singer."
The Globe and Mail.

"Drache's sketches of Jewish life in Canada mark her as an outstanding talent. The main story about the construction of a mikveh in a mythical Ontario town is puckish and surrealistic with overtones of Kafka."
Western Jewish Bulletin.

The Canadian Jewish News - September 20, 2012
Reviewed by Bill Gladstone

Review highlights from "A Bumper Harvest of Books from All Over"

"From Inanna Publications of Toronto comes Barbara Klein-Muskrat Then & Now, a collection of a dozen short stories by Sharon Abron Drache, formerly of Ottawa, now back in her hometown of Toronto. These linked stories combine memoir writing and fiction in interesting and unusual ways.

The title piece, "Reaching for Mordecai Richler," is so unmistakably about the real Richler that Drache evidently saw no point in cloaking him in a "roman-a-clef"-type literary disguise. This realistic Richler has been pulled into Drache's fictitious world, a realm that likely parallels Drache's own but actually belongs to her alter ego, Klein-Muskrat. Although the blurred line between memoir and fiction is often disconcerting, one appreciates Drache's subtle satire of the various literary personalities she is jibing, herself included."


Glebe Report, October 12, 2012
Reviewed by Teena Hendelman

Review highlights:

"The collection of satirical, humorous, yet sometimes stinging, stories explores relationships past and present, sweet and bitter, newly made and broken.…This reader's favourite story in the new collection is "To Kill the Day," where Barbara's father first appears alive, then deceased, visiting her mother as a spirit to lend support. The dialogue is amusing and quite touching.…There is a poignant sentence in the story, "Civil Disobedience," written in the form of a letter from Barbara to her brother in Israel: "once a breakup in a marriage happens, there's no going back, yet the history is like broken glass, tiny crystals ricocheting, and while the image which emerges is totally new, the past continues to linger."

Sometimes outrageous, sometimes angry, usually satirical and imaginative, the new collection of stories is a suitably irreverent addition to Sharon Abron Drache's growing anthology."


The Winnipeg Review - January 9, 2013
Reviewed by Dave Margoshes

"… Barbara Klein-Muskrat, Then and Now is Drache's third collection of stories, along with a novel, two books for children and the aforementioned numerous book reviews. All of her previous fiction, especially the stories in The Golden Ghetto and The Mikveh Man, are laced with humour, often sharp-edged – although she writes with great affection for Jewish life in Canada, she also never misses an opportunity to get in a sly dig when she can. There's plenty of that wasp-sting wit on display in this new collection.

Although Drache's tone throughout these stories is usually light, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, occasionally she lets loose with a zinger that stopped me cold with admiration, like this one, in a story ("Ruhama Fishbein and Me") about high school days: "Since we both have steady boyfriends, their sterling silver I.D. bracelets glisten on our wrists. We belong to these boys, our parents, our religion, and even to the stores where our clothes were purchased. – who are we anyway?"

Here's another quote that caught my attention: "It is impossible to explain what happens when a man and a woman who have loved each other decide to part." This not especially perceptive observation comes from Barbara Klein-Muskrat late in the book, in relation to the end of a post-marital love affair, but the breakup of her marriage, and her attempt to explain, is very much at the heart of these stories – that, and the deaths of her parents, first her beloved father, who continues on as a very lively, talkative ghost, then her very Jewish "Jewish mother."…

… In alternating comic and musing modes, we meet Klein-Muskrat's parents, sons and assorted other relatives and friends, literary and otherwise, including her nemesis, Yolande, a half Salish-Lillooet, half Jewish woman who shares Klein-Muskrat's interest, first, in the accordion, then in her husband. In addition to Richler, the legendary publisher Jack McClelland makes a cameo under his own name, and some other CanLiterati appear artfully disguised. Some of this is laugh-out-loud hilarious; almost all of the pages of this short collection about the ups and downs of an aspiring writer are amusing.

Drache has been compared to Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer and even Kafka, some other notable Jewish writers, and Dorothy Parker, she of the irrepressible cutting wit. Literary comparisons are always dicey, in my view – anyone can be compared to anyone else, after all. I'd prefer to say that Drache is a one-of-a-kind, unlike anyone else writing in Canada, well, not since the death of her hero Richler..."


"Literary Laughter: Klein-Muskrat Tells All" November 12, 2012
Reviewed by Carol Giangrande

"For some time, I've been bored with much of the lacklustre fiction that I come across in literary journals. While technically and formally accomplished, too many stories feel bland and generic, scrubbed clean of either energetic language or the grit and specificity of real life. Worse (and I can implicate myself here!), almost no literary fiction laughs at anything.

Now I wouldn't bother complaining about this unless I'd found an antidote, and I have. It's Sharon Abron Drache's new pseudo-memoir, and even the title is funny. For those old enough to remember the wave of Canadian cultural nationalism in the Seventies, Barbara Klein-Muskrat Then And Now will echo not only Mordechai Richler's wit but a weird cultural pretentiousness which Drache skewers throughout the book. The narrator of these linked tales, a literary critic of some substance, has changed her married name — Muskovitch — to Muskrat, in an apparent (but unspoken) effort to elevate a homely ethnic name to an even more homely — but more status-laden — Canadian moniker. And that's only for starters.

The fictitious tales cover thirty years in the life of this prominent critic and fiction writer who grew up in Toronto, then moved with her (now) ex-husband to Ottawa. Specifics? City streets and hangouts of the well-heeled and wannabes are everywhere. It's fun to travel through Drache's personal Mapquest of both Toronto and Ottawa; more so if you've lived in or spent much time in either city. Names are named in Klein-Muskrat's menagerie: Richler; former McClelland and Stewart publisher Jack McClelland; former Globe and Mail book review editor Jack Kapica all make guest appearances, along with a coterie of mildly irritating (but witty) relatives. Barbara's mother, awash in the budgetary details of her upcoming fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, would like the grandsons to bring dates. When Barbara notes that her son Michael is only fourteen and also gay, mama snaps: "So let him start early to find a nice Jewish boy," ranting that this state of affairs would be a great improvement over Michael's big brother and his shiksa girlfriend.

Readers will list their own favourites from a collection peppered with wisecracks, but for rampant (and truly funny) political incorrectness, my personal pick is the epistolary segment, "Dear Benjy." Maybe it's the state of the world right now that knocked the breath out of me as Barbara unfolds her tale of woe to her brother, who just happens to live on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, in Israel in 1989 (on what is now the hyper-dangerous Syrian border). If that weren't enough free-association for today's reader, poor Benjy's lost his wife to a real estate agent visiting the kibbutz from Florida, allowing Barbara to describe how her own husband Ian ran off with his boss and her good friend, accordion-playing Yolande, "the (gasp!) first half-Native person to rise to the highest echelon in Canada's civil service." The other half of Yolande turns out to have been Jewish. Yet it's not only the unravelling of her ethnicity that's so very funny; it's the tossed salad of oddball tidbits spiked with whoa-this-letter's-going-to-the-Middle-East that sends it over the top.

Drache's writing is crisp and wry and chuckle-generating throughout, and its use of detail makes both Jewish-Canadian and literary culture entertaining and absolutely real. For better or for worse, it's also worth noting that she's recreated a vanished moment in Canadian history, evoking aspects of a literary and publishing world that no longer exists (The time when one could pick up the phone and connect with Canada's foremost book publisher — or even with his personal answering machine — is long gone, if not unimaginable). Even so, her humour brings an entire world (and subculture) to life, and may yet encourage the rest of us to lighten up a bit."


Jewish Independent - Vancouver - December 7, 2012
Reviewed by Cynthia Ramsay

"Short stories say much"

"To write unlikable characters yet make their story enjoyable seems like a difficult task. Yet … Sharon Abron Drache makes them interesting in her new collection, Barbara Klein-Muskrat: Then and Now (Inanna Publications and Education Inc., 2012).

Barbara Klein-Muskrat: Then and Now is also engaging but in a completely different style. A satire of the publishing industry and some of its players, including herself, Drache has written a baker's dozen of stories, comprised of many chapters that mimic a memoir and a couple of letters from Barbara to her brother in Israel, bookended by a prologue and final chapter of Barbara meeting with a huge fan of her work.

Featured prominently in the stories and letters are the recurring unlikable characters of Barbara's former husband, Ian; his new wife, Yolande, who was once dear friends with Barbara; and Mordechai Richler, whose writing Barbara adores. Making one-off appearances are a self-absorbed and selfish writer of "Literature" (capital L), with whom Barbara falls in love after Ian, and a few really horrid-sounding men at a singles Chanukah party, including an unappealing older man to whom Barbara is attracted. Barbara herself is not always easy to like, and she can sound a tad whiney and bitter as she tries to reconcile herself to her divorcée status, which takes some 10 years of legalities to achieve.

Reading Barbara Klein-Muskrat: Then and Now, one can't help but think of the resemblances between Barbara and her creator. Drache is a published author and well-known book reviewer, she too lived in Ottawa for many years and is divorced, albeit with four, not two, children. There is a lot in this collection to which older women, especially those who have had a difficult marriage, and those struggling to make a living in the publishing industry can relate, and Drache is an accomplished writer. She ably intertwines life's humorous, absurd, sad and tender moments, as well as interjecting the occasional metaphysical presence in good Yiddish folktale fashion. Barbara/Drache has much worthwhile to impart."

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