Friedman, now in his mid-80s, adds to his wide-ranging body of work with a sprawling comic novella about a faded filmmaker and stories about being old, lonely, and morally challenged.
The novella relates the misadventures of William Kleiner, a once-respected director who goes to Israel for the first time in 1990 to scout locations for a Jewish Star Wars. For all the wonders around him, he's in a sour mood, and getting only cricket scores from Sri Lanka on the radio doesn't help. Nor does the presence of Mahmoud, a young Israeli Arab bellhop who repeatedly appears in his room without knocking and begs the American to help him get to his brother's wedding in New York. This Kleiner agrees to do after the kid comes to his rescue when he cracks his head on a marble slab of great religious significance near Christ's tomb. In America, Mahmoud pitches a great idea for a blockbuster and becomes a Hollywood player himself—not to mention close partners with "the big-breasted Borscht Belt beauty" of Kleiner's dreams. Larry David has nothing on Friedman in finding the absurd in ordinary situations, but the short stories here have a dark underside. In one of them, a Jewish writer numbed by Nazi terrors struggles with an assignment from Joseph Goebbels to write an entertaining satirical piece for the party tabloid. In another story, a former Iowa English teacher, asked to write stories in an afterlife where no literature exists, struggles to remember the plots of great books so he can pass them off as his own.
Jewish humor lives in this frequently hilarious and thoughtful collection by the author of such classics as Stern (1962) and The Lonely Guy's Book of Life (1978).