I came to Ari M. Brostoff’s essay collection Missing Time in a circuitous manner — but given the subtly all-encompassing manner in which Brostoff writes about various subjects, that seems fitting. I’m a regular listener of the podcast Know Your Enemy, and Brostoff was the guest a few months ago for an episode that included discussion of some conservative thinkers who’d come of age on the Left — and in which Brostoff showcased their knowledge of Vivian Gornick’s work. I was impressed with Brostoff’s breadth of knowledge and ordered Missing Time later that night.
Missing TIme is a short book, but it’s one that hits with a significant impact. Brostoff is equally comfortable talking about politics and popular culture, with the essays in this book covering subjects ranging from Bernie Sanders to The X-Files. What makes this book stand out are the ways in which Brostoff finds deeper resonances for these subjects, pulling off the rare accomplishment of work that’s simultaneously incisive for cultural and political reasons.
The essay “The Double’s Allegiance” is emblematic of Brostoff’s skills. It takes as its starting point Philip Roth’s novel Operation Shylock, which — Brostoff writes — they revisited in the wake of Roth’s death “for an admittedly vulgar reason: I wanted to know if, with regard to the moral identity of the Jewish state, we were on the same furious team.” The essay expands from there, covering everything from Edward Said’s analogue in a Roth novel to the geopolitics of the Obama administration.
Some of what makes Missing Time engaging is Brostoff’s willingness to grapple with complex subjects and respond to them in a way that acknowledges their complexity. This is not writing that prescribes a sense of “good” or “bad”; instead, it posits its author’s questioning of various subjects and trusts the reader to form their own opinion.
It doesn’t hurt that Brostoff is especially skilled with opening sentences. “We had just left the new Trader Joe’s on Grand Street, and I was pointing out the old Lower East Side settlement house, when my father remembered the note he’d made to tell me about the communist neighbors.” (That’s from “The Family Romance of American Communism.”) Look back at it — you have a sense of place, a sense of class, and a generational theme; it’s also a sentence that immediately gets your attention.
This is not a long book, but it’s a work that left this reader hoping for more. These five essays, plus a long introduction, are a fine introduction to their author’s work; let’s hope a second volume is on its way soon.
Missing Time: Essays
by Ari M. Brostoff
n + 1 Books; 134 p.