This comic novel about a lovable loser who runs in a New York City Marathon is an adult first from Zweibel, Emmy-winning TV writer and author of Bunny Bunny (1994), a memoir of Gilda Radner.
Shulman is the middle-aged owner of a failing stationery store in Fort Lee, N.J. He’s overweight (248 pounds), has been likened to “Woody Allen with a glandular condition” and hates running. So when he announces his marathon entry, his older, successful brothers are contemptuous, his wife Paula plain baffled. But Shulman needs to escape the realities of bankruptcy and of a nonexistent sex life, and his sponsorship money will go to an AIDS project. The goodhearted Shulman, who has hastened his bankruptcy with freebies and markdowns, is in fact a self-made victim incapable of anger. But there’s the Other Shulman, the name he gives to his spitting image, first encountered on a running path when his super-aggressive double charged toward him, forcing him into the bushes. The Other Shulman, natch, owns a chain of stationery megastores, and he’ll continue to best Shulman at every turn. Does he really exist, or is he Shulman’s liberated id on a rampage? It doesn’t really matter, for this loose-jointed tale, alternating between the marathon and earlier comic diversions, pursues its comedy as erratically as Shulman pursues his training, from Shulman’s gig behind the scenes on a TV game show to his very public kiss with a fellow runner, another prelude to nothing. Zweibel injects a more serious note with the HIV-positive Coach Jeffrey, who before his sudden death dictates a letter to Shulman containing the usual self-help stuff (commit to your dream, etc.), preparing for the fairy-tale ending.
Mildly amusing, but a work from the co-author of Billy Crystal’s current Broadway hit, 700 Sundays, could have packed more of a punch.