A disenchanted TV writer withdraws into the recesses of his mind to escape the pressures of day-to-day life and pen his memoirs.
Ralph Jonas is a television writer in the 1960s—a well-read man of numerous trades, plagued by a lack of artistic satisfaction and unable to cope with the larger-than-life characters of Hollywood’s studio system. His anxieties force him inward, to the novel’s titular bar that exists only in his mind, an establishment frequented by an endless array of baseball players, historical figures, personal acquaintances and literary characters. Jonas spends his time at Mneme’s Place drinking, reliving past experiences and keeping (mostly) to himself while thinking up clever ways to organize the patrons. He hopes to assemble all of this into his great novel—a final account of the lives of his writing partners, his family and, most importantly, the Isaacson’s, the eccentric immigrant family on his mother’s side. Wolfe’s (Double Feature, 2008) novel is a book of organization and lists in a stream-of-consciousness style, which presents as tedious namedropping of fictional, historical and sports personalities. Rarely do these lists further the narrative, and more often they slow the novel’s progression to a crawl, while a solid plot never takes shape, leaving the reader with interesting characters that have no story in which to function. Still, there’s a clear love of language, and when not lost in its verbosity, some of the word play and puns are charming. Other turns of phrases that are less clever are made adroit by the unfounded pleasure Jonas seems to take in them, and the character’s penchant for self-congratulation despite his low opinion of himself makes him more memorable than any of the characters he attempts to capture in his writing. The lampooning of writers, and the exploration of themes such as artistic frustration and accomplishment, particularly with the medium’s struggle to depict certain aspects of real life, will resonate with many, especially those who write themselves.
Digressive, with its best points lost in the excesses.