|In "The Man Who Wanted to Buy a Heart," Bernstein mingles characters working in New York's apparel industry with those who exhibit the bizarre nature of human yearnings. We find out how death by pastrami may help the funeral business; we meet Henderson, who finds a cheap substitution for fashion, George McNabe, who wishes to be buried in his front lawn, and Ricardo, who must have a burgundy tie without embroidery, among others. |
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There have always been plenty of characters on Seventh Avenue. People with bigger-than-life personalities abound. But there are hardly any literary characters from the Garment District—at least until now. Leonard S. Bernstein—who took over Candlesticks Inc., his family’s children’s wear business, in 1953—has penned a book of short stories, most of which weave in and out of small New York apparel manufacturers. In The Man Who Wanted to Buy a Heart (University of New Orleans Press), Bernstein, 80, remembers fondly the quirks and the failings and what he sees as the nobility of the Garment District of the Fifties and Sixties.
Many of the book’s 17 stories reach out for some sort of common decency. Characters, even those who aren’t very good at their jobs, find a place for themselves in the warrens of the Garment District. As perhaps the lone writer of fiction centered on the Garment District, Bernstein opens a window on a world that in large part has passed. (Evan Clark Women's Wear Daily, 5/14/2012)
Mr. Bernstein’s collection The Man Who Wanted to Buy a Heart is a cozy group of pieces that belong together. Here’s a suggestion: Read the collection in one or two sittings. It’s fun to do it that way, to let Mr. Bernstein’s voice and perspective claim an evening or two.
That voice is full of experience and without artifice; it is knowing rather than sophisticated, considered if not highly polished. His perspective is marked by a strong sense of ethics and a wry sense of humor charmingly given to exaggeration. Throughout, he observes the push and pull between the seriousness and the drollness of life.
Setting plays a large role in the collection, with a number of the stories taking place in New York City’s garment district, in an era at once bygone and timeless.
Here is clever and gentle commentary on human nature, both charming and wise. (Evan Harris East Hampton Star, May 15, 2012)
'Each story' in Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful new collection has 'a little pain, a little joy, and often a little magic.' The quotes perfectly describe the ingredients of these funny, witty stories that resonate in the tradition of Isaak Babel, I.B. Singer, and the Melville of Bartleby. The most vivid ones are set in the NYC garment district—"28th Street in the early 1950s"—little parables, revelatory and smart oracular tales that show, as one example, how our debts carry over from ancestral Vilnius, say, to the 21st century in the new world. Saving face is still an imperative. Wit, intelligence, and shrewdness equal survival but only for the fittest, those negotiators who work all the angles, 'from generations of pushcart peddlers who got up with the sun and struggled for every nickel.' Read this book, laugh, cry, and become wise. (Hilda Raz)
In these short stories, each as streamlined and efficient as a well-oiled sewing machine, experience tells. To be precise, Leonard S. Bernstein's experience of managing a company in Manhattan's garment center tells us a lot about what it's like to work under high pressure in the midst of all-too-human cravings for dignity, money, and status. And the stories have other settings, including Vilna and Brooklyn. Sholom Aleichem comes to mind constantly in reading these crisp tales of to-and-fro bargaining, of keeping up appearances, of hard-won compromises and reaching the point of no compromise.
Each of these stories brings a charge of pleasure, for the felicity of idiomatic speech and ingenuity of structure, for the comic dialogue and the pathos that flows from the author's sympathy for his characters, for the attention to material objects and social codes. The office worker who commits himself to wearing "Navy Blue Forever," the minuet of courtship on company time, the outraged citizen who refuses to buy a tie with a corporate insignia—these are finely textured portraits of the street-level life around us, miniature in scope but never in implication. You're being offered fourteen splendid stories between two covers. Treat yourself to a bargain! None of them will wear out.
'I find it interesting that you call your blog 'Shop the Garment District', considering...' he said, tapping the glass table deliberately, 'that the Garment District no longer exists.' I initially wanted to meet Leonard Bernstein because of his fiction writing, and his unique garment district stories. What I didn't know, was that I actually needed to meet him. His knowledge of the Garment District is vast, valuable, and needs to be shared. I met him in the office of his family business, Candlesticks Inc., where he has been at the helm since 1953. Candlesticks is a well-established company, in business since 1928, selling to the biggest retail chain stores whose names we all know. In a glossy, formal, garment center building, his company produces children's' pajamas and swimwear. Leonard, a smartly dressed, happy man, ushered me over to the big glass table in the showroom, and promptly offered me a perfect cup of coffee. With a garment district family history th at stretches back as far as his great-grandfather who owned a pushcart on Hester Street at the turn of the 20th century, and a grandfather who owned an apparel company with a factory in New York City, Leonard's unique perspective allows him to understand both where the district has been AND where it is going. Better yet, his warm, open personality allows him to share this information with us. And now? His company produces lots and lots and LOTS of garments, overseas of course, and selling in the biggest retail chains we know. Macy's, just across the street from his office, is among them. Quickly, the conversation turned to the topic of apparel manufacturing.
Here's the thing: Can you still buy supplies, manufacture, and sell goods you make in NYC's garment district? 'Yes, you can—if you do boutique-type stuff. You can find a small shop to make 27 dresses, or some artistic handmade ties, and yes, you can sell them. But... you wanna sell to Macy's Target, WalMart, Sears? Then, you've gotta go overseas.' Leonard tells me. 'Why not produce it here?' I ask. 'Why not, you ask? Where are the factories?' He elaborated on this point, explaining that it's fine when you're just starting out, since at most, maybe some loft in Chinatown will produce the small lot you need, but, eventually you have to be competitive. If you want to sell to the big stores, the factories in China, Bangladesh, and Cambodia can produce the quantities you need quickly, using workers who are paid $1/hr. And guess what? That's a living wage in those places!
(Mimi Jackson Shop the Garment District, April 22nd, 2013)
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Book Description University of New Orleans Pres, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P111608010732