SUNDAY PUNCH by Edwin Newman


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I have a friend named Sam Franklin. (I also have friends who are not named Sam Franklin, but this is a claim anyone can make and I do not intend to dwell on it)."" Those are the first lines of this mild-mannered farce, and if you smile rather than sigh when reading them, Newman's rather arch humor will probably appeal throughout. The narrator is a sportswriter-turned-editorial-writer, and his friend Sam (""Fogbound"") Franklin is a prizefighter manager who, desperate for a managee, takes on an odd young Britisher, Aubrey Philpott-Grimes. ""His build, you wouldn't believe. Skinny, and pale like boiled halibut."" Nevertheless, classics scholar Aubrey is a winner in the ring--inspired as he is by his passion for economics and his determination to save Britain's economy by earning big bucks in America and paying huge U.K. taxes. He's soon also inspired by Fredda Plantagenet, aging but va-va-voom actress. Dubbed ""The Happy Taxpayer,"" Aubrey keeps climbing toward the middleweight championship--till he's foiled by the dastardly plot of a would-be gangster and his unlikely but eager new moll (she's Aubrey's spurned former sweetheart from Britain). They coach Aubrey's opponent on how to distract Aubrey in the ring with questions on economics: ""In round nine, Turner asked for a definition of oligopsony, no small achievement with a gum shield in his mouth. . . ."" Most of this is mildly amusing, as are Newman's lightly satiric assaults in between the fights--on hog-washing Congressmen, chatty newscasters, the Washington in-crowd, bad sportswriters, gurus, and TV sit-coms: ""'A Mouse in My House,' about a divorced father and his shy daughter, who, unbeknownst to him, is not the timid schoolteacher she seems to be but a plainclothes detective as tough and resourceful as any man on the force. . . ."" But first-novelist Newman never really summons up a distinctive voice; it's all mixed echoes of Runyon, Lardner, Perelman, Wodehouse, and lesser sorts. A pleasant enough mix, but novel-length mildness (Perelman would have packed all the ideas here into a dazzling short story) may turn to tedium for all but the most sedate readers.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin