Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

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 ...

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