Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review--Lucky Bruce

I went to the library last week to get, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy.  While there I spotted a book called Lucky Bruce, an autobiography by Bruce Jay Friedman.  It caught my attention because I thought the author had written a short book I had read as a kid that still makes me laugh when I think about it. That book, How to Be a Jewish Mother was, I found out, actually written by someone else (Dan Greenberg).  Nevertheless, I borrowed Lucky Bruce from the library and finished it yesterday.  I'm glad I read it.

When I read the front matter in the book I realized that I had read another book by Bruce Jay Friedman many years ago.  When I was in graduate school, Stern--Friedman's best known novel--was a required reading in one of my classes.  I don't remember much about it except for a vague sense that I did not think it was "so extra."

While Lucky Bruce  is not the sort that compels you to snag strangers and tell them to get it, the book is an interesting read particularly for anyone who wants to get a sense of what it is like to be a writer.  The downsides of the book are that there does not seem to be a pattern at all to what appears between the covers. It is not chronological really.  It does start with his early years and ends with the present and does proceed sort of between then and now. However, the chapters are essentially unrelated episodes.  There is a chapter that centers on Elaine's--the writers' restaurant/bar in NY.  Another about his interactions with Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Several that address his relationships with Mario Puzo and Joseph Heller.  In the early parts of the book we read about his start working for a Magazine company and how he worked at writing plays and novels when not on the clock at his day job.   However, there are only loose linkages between one chapter and another.  The reader discovers that his first marriage was not a good one and the second one a very good one, but little about why in either case.  He apparently adores his four children, but one wonders about how the lifestyle of a writer has affected his personal relationships.  Some of that in the book, but given the many references to his children and the several pictures of his family in the photo section, I wonder why that detail was left out.  Also, several references to his mother, but not much about his father.  So, I was curious to know more about his non literary relationships because I would think that the world of a writer could have an impact on traditional lifestyles. Again, some of that, but it was superficial and, to me at least, curiously left out.

What I liked about the book is that it did provide many insights into the turbulence and pleasures of a writer's life.  Bruce Jay Friedman has written novels, plays, screenplays (some of which he has been credited for when he acknowledges that his input was minimal or discarded by Hollywood producers).  He has written many short stories and been published in prestigious magazines.  His financial fortunes have swung like a Sine curve, but he obviously did well enough to live in the prestigious Hamptons (Water Mill specifically) and be a regular at various expensive restaurants.  He downplays his talents which I found attractive, but he is and he must be very talented to be as published as he has been.

You get the sense that despite the struggles and the shots to one's self esteem that come with being rejected--capriciously at times as part of the territory of submitting artitcles--he has enjoyed his life as a writer.

Relatively easy read.  290 pages; so you are not going to get bogged down with it.  If you can pardon the gaps and don't mind that the memoir is more a pastiche than a sequentially linked narrative, then I think you will like it.

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