A portrait of the artist as an aging, solipsistic man.
Michael Goldberg’s career as a writer has brought him into the rag-tag offices of a Jewish activist group, the orbit of Hollywood moguls and the homes of mobsters, while various romances have bounced him from his native New York to Vancouver to L.A. and back to New York again. What all this movement hasn’t done is make him any more secure about his ability to maintain a stable relationship, or help him shake off the neuroses he feels his parents bestowed on him. This book is less a novel, as it is billed, than a loosely connected cycle of short stories. Evanier (Red Love, 1991, etc.) presents a variety of scenes from Goldberg’s life, all expressed in a similarly melancholic and nostalgic tone. In “The Man Who Gave Up Women,” his father’s death unlocks a stream of memories of his persistent insults; “The Great Kisser” tells much the same story in the context of his mother’s death; and in “Scraps,” he recalls his first girlfriend, when he was 14, as well as their accidental reunion more than two decades later. It is among the most effective tales here, rich with details that evoke a boy’s life in New York in the mid-’50s: stickball in Queens, the dying breaths of vaudeville on Broadway, radio and TV shows, a growing sexual awareness. Unfortunately, Evanier only rarely generates enough narrative energy to make these feel like full-bodied stories; more often, they’re episodic tales differentiated only by the varying levels of contempt that Michael expresses toward himself. That’s not a big problem in “Danny and Me,” a trim comic story about the shared romantic troubles that Michael has with a young autistic man he counsels; but in the sprawling, novella-length “The Tapes,” it’s deadly—an extended fit of bellyaching about exes and therapy that tries the reader’s patience.
The themes evoke those of Philip Roth’s work in the ’70s—sex, divorce, guilt, Jewish identity—but the execution is lacking.