An octogenarian recalls his life in a collection of anecdotes.
Harris writes “for pleasure and for the occasional shock of revelation when my writing uncovers a personal secret I’ve been keeping from myself.” It is both this humor and catharsis that punctuate many of the 100-plus stories spanning the author’s eight decades. The writings are medicinal within the backdrop of Harris’ psychiatric journeys, but the passing of his psychiatrist impels a different, if not cheaper, remedy. What better way to get relief than cutting your income in half because you no longer have to financially support your doctor? These occasionally self-deprecating tales are semi-chronological, but they are also sometimes more like disorganized ramblings that, overall, seem to have little coherence or identity. The grab bag of yarns does well on the level of individual stories, depending mostly on an occasional quick wit or clever observation. The speculation on the meaning of a mother mashing her son’s middle finger in the car door is irreverent and funny. The theory that everyone needs a nemesis is certainly made more interesting by the tenant Marbo, a man whose health actually improves when he is once again able to regularly argue with someone. And most readers (probably men) will be able to relate to the counsel of relationship love tests or the futility of arguing with your wife, no matter how high the temperature climbs. These stabs for humor or philosophy, however, endure two very evident shortcomings. One is that they are too few and far between. There is certainly an accumulation of living in 80+ years, but the author’s experiences aren’t overly exciting or compelling. Part of this problem is in the writer’s identity. Readers learn that Harris wrote some pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle, but his renown ends there. The other shortcoming is the medium. It could very well be that Harris is a great storyteller, but writing is simply a poor conveyance. The reader might get the sense that people named Old Dutch, Horse-Face Horace or Eye-Ball Brown are more compelling or funny in the oral tradition of storytelling. Perhaps the stories are just more in the vein of, “You had to be there.”
An often-aimless collection more suited to a different medium.