Posted in Short Stories

Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Cafeteria (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 3)

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I decided not to rest until I knew for certain what had happened to Esther and also to that half writer, half politician I remembered from East Broadway. But I grew busier from day to day. The cafeteria closed. The neighborhood changed. Years have passed and I have never seen Esther again. Yes, corpses do walk on Broadway. But why did Esther choose that particular corpse? She could have got a better bargain even in this world.

Isaac Bashevis Singer uses as a backdrop for his short story “The Cafeteria” a – you guessed it – cafeteria; however, he takes what might be considered recurring leisurely lunches to more universal heights – working in the evils of the twentieth century and the human condition in general.


Aaron, an acclaimed author, visits a New York City cafeteria on a regular basis. Various acquaintances and strangers usually join him. The group seems to change frequently but most of them are of European origin, Jewish, and have been in New York City since the 1930’s. Some survived the atrocities of World War II and arrived from Europe since then.

Through decades of lunches, a woman, Esther, joins him occasionally disappearing for years at a time. Esther falls into that category of friends who came from Europe after the war. Singer uses Esther’s potential psychosis to haunt the story with real questions about this world we live in. Questions that haven’t gone away since this story’s 1968 publication.


Each year with Deal Me In, one of the first few stories I read jumps out as a potential favorite and “The Cafeteria” is that story for 2017. It’s included in my collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Ten of Hearts for Week 3 of Deal Me In 2017. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Next week, I’ll be leaving New York City to visit “Country Boys” by Rusty Barnes.


5 thoughts on “Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Cafeteria (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 3)

  1. I’m pretty sure I would like this story on a “personal” level. As a bachelor, I often eat out and have an embarrassingly large number of favorite haunts. One is the Clearwater Panera in the pre-work hours during the week, which has quite a cast of ‘regulars’ like you describe above. (I’ve actually written probably 10-20% of my blog sitting in that Panera!) The same goes for some after work bars/restaurants. I enjoy the casual “friendships” that develop in those situations.

    I haven’t read much of Singer’s work, but have read “The Key”, which I know you’ve covered on this blog before. He certainly seems a writer that merits more reading by me in the future.

    Glad you found an early favorite, too! I’m going to try to keep better track of my favorites (and favorite characters) this year so my annual “shorties” awards will be more meaningful.

    1. Jay,
      There are a number of coffee shops in and around my house (since I moved a year and a half ago to what would be considered more “the city”) that I like to go to. I haven’t been able to meet “regulars”, though.

      I’m sure there will be other stories this year that will compete with this one, but I really liked this one. More Singer in warranted – definitely.

    1. This is only the second work of Singer’s that I’ve read. The other is “The Key”. Both are very good stories and make me want to read more of his work. It’s interesting that he tended to write his work in Yiddish and then translate it.

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