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Daniel Stern, who died Wednesday, had some interesting credits on his resume: played jazz with Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan, hung out with John Cage, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning at the old Cedar Tavern, worked for CBS and ad giant McCann-Erickson. Not bad for a guy who never went to college. But he's best known, if he's known at all, for not being the schmuck who did the voiceover on "The Wonder Years." He's second-best known as a writer of short stories, the title above being perhaps his greatest achievement in that form.
"A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted With Grief" appears in the volume One Day's Perfect Weather, a collection of stories that are based around the prose, poems, and music of other artists. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it reminds you of how powerful the short story format can be. "Sorrows" is about music teacher Ben Kraft, a transplanted Yankee in Texas who gets pulled over for speeding while listening to Bach's Johannes-Passion; a series of small lies results in improbable - and uncomfortable - local celebrity for Kraft, who is thought to have seen the light and found Christ. It's hard to convey how compact the story is; Stern covers a number of issues, not the least of which are spirituality and identity, in a fraction of the space it takes some novelists to work out one single theme. The book is sadly out of print, but used copies are going cheaply: We promise that it's one of the best $3 reads you've had in a while.