Tanya Irene Shwartz, a 30-year-old Jewish-American woman, narrates the many different aspects of her conflicted and hilarious life: her erotic relationship to her sister, Jewish law, 1970s American pop culture, older men, and younger women.
Using the inspiration of the dissonant musical (and psychological) structure of the fugue, this book successfully retrieves the rhythm of passion and confusion that marks adolescence. Each ‘fugue’ centers around a moment of transformation. And to each of these moments, the story adds a grace note: that almost-sound just before contact with the divine.
The inventive form of Thirteen Fugues is matched by its extraordinary content. These stories share a pre-occupation with Jewish law, mixed together with pre-adolescent sexuality, set to a disco beat. Most feature the unwritten and unspoken erotics of relationships between sisters, but several also explore the more frequently traveled territory of the relationships between little girls and adult men. But the twist is that the perspective is that of the girls. Scenes of religious and sexual pedagogy frame these scenarios, suggesting that sex and soul are taught together.
Each fugue uses traditional narrative and lyric techniques to create interest and desire on the part of the reader. These techniques are sped up and intensified so to capture the rhythms of inner speech. This collision between literary prose and internal monologue stretches the boundaries of both confessional and literary language.