Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Bruce Jay Friedman, Redux
About a month ago I posted here about writer Bruce Jay Friedman, who will turn 83 in April and whose name has pretty much disappeared from the popular tongue but whose work I'd loved a few decades ago. Here's a Link to that earlier post. As I wrote last month, I'd lost track of him, but I'd come across an interview with him (included in a new book I was reviewing), and it got me to wondering what he was up to lately. So many of my older literary heroes are gone now--Mailer, Vonnegut, Vidal. Thomas Berger is not writing anymore.
So I ordered Friedman's two most recent books: Three Balconies: Stories and a Novella (2008) and Lucky Bruce: A Memoir (2011--which I started this morning--will write about it a little later). I finished Three Balconies yesterday and pretty much enjoyed it--was surprised a bit about how Friedman's interests and themes have endured. And how they still matter.
He often writes about conflicts--contests, even--between people. Not sports or games. But the sort of choreography you sometimes see between and among siblings: Who will gain favor? Who will merely survive? Who will flourish? Stories about status. The initial story in the collection--"The Secret Man"--tells about two young men growing up in the same rough neighborhood--their odd relationships, their clashes.
In "Fit as a Fiddle," a man notices how all his friends are dying--yet he is surviving. "Neck and Neck" deals with literary rivals--one who far surpasses the other. But dies first. I like these last two sentences about the survivor, now 89, who's finally able to write again, now that his rival is gone: "Now he could focus. Now he could begin" (68).
Some of the stories have an almost O. Henryesque twist at the end. A man who loves listening to and watching professional boxing is found in his room, dead, his face battered--but by whom? And why? In "The Reversal," a psychiatrist begins showing up at the door of his patient, who becomes the shrink for his doctor. In "Kneesocks," a man meets with his long-ago high-school girlfriend (who dumped him); he realizes, talking with her, that he far prefers his wife.
And one of my favorites, "The People Person": a U. S. President is kidnapped in Latin America; his abductors confine him to a room with 500 books--they point guns at him, force him to read. He begins with Anna Karenina.
The novella--"The Great Beau Le Vyne"--reminded me a little of Zelig, a story about a man who is somehow everywhere and nowhere--and, like the "Great" Jay Gatsby--a man who is not at all great in any meaningful way.
Friedman's stories now, I think, lack the bite and the piercing humor of his earlier fiction--but maybe I have changed? Hard to tell. What I do know is that it's fun, once again, to hold a Friedman text in my hand, wonderful to see his words dance on a page, hear his ironic voice in my imagination, feel his passion in my heart.
To be continued--when I finish his memoir ...