Is this collection of 16 pieces as consistently hilarious as Getting Even or Without Feathers? Well, a few items here do...



Is this collection of 16 pieces as consistently hilarious as Getting Even or Without Feathers? Well, a few items here do display that quintessential Allen blend of parody (usually simultaneous parodies of more than one sort of intellectual pretension), nonstop one-liners, and earthy absurdity: ""Remembering Needleman,"" though awfully familiar Allen territory, is a laugh-per-sentence triumph, nailing both philosophical discourse (""Authentic Being, reasoned Needleman, could only be achieved on weekends and even then it required the borrowing of a car"") and the whitewashing eulogy; ""The Condemned"" does just fine with Sartre/Camus nausea fiction (""Cloquet hated reality but realized it was still the only place to get a good steak""); and ""Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response"" is a dazzler--a seamless send-up of restaurant reviews and Marxist critiques and letters-to-the-editor in intellectual journals, as well as the endless wrangles among old U.S. leftists How quickly we forget that during the worst era of the Stalinist purges Fabrizio's not only was open for business but enlarged its back room to seat more customers!""). Effective also, on more modest terms: a survey of nostalgic local-color clichÉs; and the history of the Heimlich maneuver (""A Giant Step for Mankind""). But other satires--on UFOs, commencement speeches, saga novels--put too many similar gags on frameworks that are rather too thin and obvious. And a pair of sexual-angst tales (one too Annie Hall-ish for comfort) don't really work, while an Allenized playlet version of The Death of Socrates needs Woody's on-camera delivery to make it come alive. So: no, not consistently hilarious. Yet all such quibbles fade here--before the splendor of ""The Kugelmass Episode,"" the culmination of the narrative, non-gag strain in Allen's writing; notwithstanding the parodies (there's one of Kafka too), Allen is an existentialist, and Kugelmass' magical entry into the pages of Madame Bovary is full of terror and light and wonder, with no loss of edge or sass. Similarly, ""The Shallowest Man,"" though a bit crude, is a grimly ironic fable whose Talmudic ambiguity is for real--and more than a little haunting. Finally, then, if Allen's third book is perhaps his least laugh-packed, it's his most impressive--fine work not just from America's surest, brightest humorist but also from a story-writer of wise, airy, expanding gifts.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980