THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD by Avery Corman
Kirkus Star

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An old, old story--the successful middle-aged go-getter who decides to dump the rat-race for some simpler life--but Corman (Oh, God!, Kramer vs. Kramer) recycles it with enough ingratiating detail, low-key comedy, and disarmingly straight-on sentiment to quash all quibbles. . . at least up until a rather uncomfortable denouement. Narrator Steve Robbins grows up in the Bronx in the '40s--playing basketball, going to CCNY, having trouble getting into Madison Ave. advertising (too New York, too Jewish). But then comes an ad-agency owner from L.A. looking for ""zippy"" N.Y. types, so off goes Steve to California, rising quickly with his zippy copy (""Don't just wave at that housefly. It doesn't want to know you. Slay it with Marvelspray"") and finding perfect wife Beverly: ""beautiful, smart, blond and Jewish"" (her parents dress like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, speaking Yiddish--""You got kutzper, boy?""--with a Western drawl). Madison Ave. is still the dream, however, and when N.Y. beckons--Steve is now sought as ""a California type""--the couple heads East: Steve soars into his own, prestige agency; Beverly soars too, with a booming Long Island art school for children; they share an ERA-style household With two fairly nice daughters. What could be wrong? Everything. No time for each other or the kids. Bev is having an affair (she says it's just an ""episode"") and wants to summer alone. And the agency has taken on a particularly loathsome new account: ""two new homo lines"" of fragrance, ""Macho"" and ""Lesbo."" So it's dropout time--as Steve sits catatonically remembering his Bronx youth (""The past took over the present"") and then goes back to the rundown-but-still-recognizable old neighborhood. Every day. He plays basketball with the locals, finds real ""buddies"" again. He hangs out at a candy store, teaches the young owner how to make egg creams, then starts working there full-time. He plays cards with his childhood mentor Sam-the-bookie. He quits the agency--with predictable reactions from wife, kids, and partner. And all this is properly exhilarating, in the A Thousand Clowns free-spirit tradition. But when Steve ends up by opening a 1940s nostalgia-artifacts store in Manhattan, it makes his return to the ""old neighborhood"" seem more neurotically obsessive than genuinely liberating. And this off-key windup tends, retroactively, to highlight the psychological flimsiness throughout. Still--the tangy, sweet narration goes down easy as a perfectly proportioned egg cream; the comic ad-biz dialogue is superbly timed; and Corman's Kramer vs. Kramer recognition-factor should help boost this nice, funny little book into a slightly showier bracket.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster