FREDI & SHIRL & THE KIDS by Richard M. Elman


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That this may be a therapeutic exercise for novelist Elman does not initially intrude until the midpoint of this scalding autobiographical novel when a triumphant conceit gives way to confessional commentary. This is the story of love's dreadful absence in a family viewed by Elman as a comic turn of monsters. Fredi (the father), Shirl (the mother) and the kids (older brother Bennett and Richard M. Elman) play the Brooklyn neighborhoods. The basic beat is set in all-cap vamps and choruses: AFTER ALL WE'VE DONE FOR YOU/ I TOLD YOU RIGHT FROM THE START SHIRL THAT KID WAS NO GOOD/ I'LL TELL HITLER ALL ABOUT YOU. . . . Among the maids, mostly black, underpaid and humiliated, there was Edna, a sexual initiation and a sort of love (YOU POOR KID she said COME HERE). Wonderingly Richard observed some humans who seemed to offer something to each other besides mutual adjustment and disinterest, and there is a doomed but miraculous friendship with another teenage boy, but he is really born at Syracuse University, which he revolves on a spit for a few chapters. Via a teacher who, in spite of his own personal hell is a very good writer, Elman learns that ""writing was one good way of becoming a human being."" It only remains to recap other ""unspent portions"" of his life -- there's a tribute to his divorced wife and their special kind of love, ""another way of saying HELP I'M SCARED."" And although Fredi, Shirl and the Kids still do their numbers in his head on bleak days, he's ""no longer part of the act."" Elman chews the scenery with some personal soliloquies but the cri is clear and downstage center.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1972
Publisher: Scribners