“A bang or two”

By Emanuel Derman
October 14, 2011

This is an extended version of a review I wrote on Amazon for Lucky Bruce: A Memoir (Hardcover)

Terrifically Charming, Funny, Insightful, Interesting Mix of Braggadocio and Self-Deprecation

Many years ago I read “A Mother’s Kisses” and laughed out loud. The only other books I ever did that with were Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim” and Donleavy’s “The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners.”

The latter is devilishly funny. “Lucky Jim” is funny and rebellious but also perceptive. “A Mother’s Kisses” is funny too, but much more insightful about adolescence, about trying to grow up and break away from parental ties and from a fascinating womanly but ultimately suffocating mother whom he’s loyal to.

I write now from ancient memory. Everything in “A Mother’s Kisses” is psychologically plausible and yet unexpected and surprising and elliptical. The character is totally convincing, some sort of cross between Holden Caulfield and Woody Allen and Alexander Portnoy, Jewish, with a strong urge for survival at all costs. (I hesitate to describe him as a cross between these people because it doesn’t do him justice.) But mostly it’s astonishingly funny and psychologically deep.

I read some of Friedman’s other books — Stern and the play Scuba Duba — and saw the PBS production of Steambath in 1973, which I intend to regretfully download off some illegal website tonight if I can’t find it any other place.

I remembered all this when I saw a review of Bruce Jay Friedman’s new memoir “Lucky Bruce,” whose title makes reference to my favorite “Lucky Jim” itself, and so I bought “Lucky Bruce.” I’m half way thru and it has the the throwaway comic style of “A Mother’s Kisses”, but admittedly more contrived and self-indulgent. It’s the disingenuously frank memoir of an old guy who still feels young, trying to make a point and remind you who he was in the literary heyday of NYC in the 50s 60s 70s, when he was the discoverer of Mario Puzo, friend of James Salter, boxer against Norman Mailer, etc etc etc. Lots of self-acknowledged name-dropping. Nothing obviously deep.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Seated beside me at dinner was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever encountered. Never mind The English Rose. She was an entire country garden. She said to me:
“Hours and hours of lovely lovely love. Don’t you find it the most wonderful of activities?”

I agreed, of course, though I’d had little experience at it. As Joseph Heller would have put it, “Maybe a quick bang or two …”

I took her words as an invitation. Decades later, the words still haunt me. There was a gentle and chubby man beside her. I believe he was part of the package. I could have slipped away with her, and even worked in the chubby man. I probably wouldn’t have been missed … But it would have been rude. Throw a little cowardice into the mix. (“We could do it. But it would be wrong.” Richard Nixon.) And yet, there it is, branded in my memory forever … Hours that got away.

I began “Lucky Bruce” during a long period of downtime in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday and it made my day. I’m not recommending it for anyone except me. But it’s a charming self-centered reminiscence of a NYC when you could make a living as a writer by writing articles for Esquire and Playboy. I’m very fond of it so far.

It could have been better edited. He often refers to a book or person in several chapters, and each time reminds you about what you already know.

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