No verse, nothing from radio or television, and no Dorothy Parker: ""I'm afraid I found her comic stories brittle, short on...



No verse, nothing from radio or television, and no Dorothy Parker: ""I'm afraid I found her comic stories brittle, short on substance, and, to come clean, no longer very funny,"" writes Richler (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) in a brief introduction here. But his generous selection of over 60 prose pieces, if sometimes idiosyncratic, offers a wide, savvy range of 20th-century comic writing (mostly American, bits of British)--with offbeat entries as well as chestnuts. The early items are the most predictable, with familiar sketches by Runyon, Lardner, Benchley (the ""Opera Synopses""), Thurber, and even George S. Kaufman's outrageously dated playlet If Men Played Cards as Women Do. More resourcefully, however, Richler has ventured into the literature of correspondence for winning selections from Marianne Moore and Groucho Marx. And, in more recent decades, the inevitables--Eudora Welty's ""Why I Live at the P.O.,"" a Perelman perennial, a bit of Portnoy, columns by Baker and Buchwald--are balanced by less obvious or form-fit choices: a fine excerpt from Beryl Bainbridge's under-appreciated Injury Time; a few pages from John Mortimer's memoir, Clinging to the Wreckage; Thomas Berger at his most characteristic (if not his most hilarious), from Reinhart Women; and painfully funny sequences from novels by Stanley Elkin and Joseph Heller. Other choices are a little odd: an only incidentally amusing scene (encountering Hasidim on a plane) from Saul Bellow's To Jerusalem and Back; Fran Lebowitz at her most culturally narrow, least funny; a cartoonish sex-sequence from Lisa Alther's Kinflicks; superb stories by Woody Allen and Max Apple--which, though perhaps their best, are far from their most humorous. Moreover, while Richler includes a few routine parodies and monologues (Bruce McCall on Popular Mechanics, Nora Ephron on breasts), his omissions include such innovative dazzlers as T. Coraghessan Boyle. Lots to quibble about, then, as with almost any such anthology--but lots more to enjoy and discover.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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