A tale of two Tobolowskys, divided by a positive midlife crisis.
In the author’s latest, ostensibly a memoir but difficult to characterize, prolific character actor Tobolowsky (The Dangerous Animals Club, 2012) revisits his past with an eye toward finding some order, and some religion, in the chaos. The first half of the book follows the author’s life from his childhood in Dallas to the heady years of his burgeoning acting career in the 1980s. In the second half, Tobolowsky focuses on people and concepts related, in some way or another, to his return to Judaism. The two halves are very different in tone, subject matter, and approach. The author’s banal account of his early career mirrors the sort of hedonistic life story one might expect from a baby boomer in the entertainment world: drugs, parties, and money (or the lack thereof) dominate many of the storylines. Readers will be only mildly amused by the time Tobolowsky quips, “do you know how hard it is to spend $800 a week on yourself when you are not buying cocaine? In 1985 dollars?” The concept of faith doesn’t figure largely in the author’s story until the mid-1990s and his rather sudden return to traditional Judaism. At this point, the memoir gains more gravity but also becomes less streamlined, turning from a TMZ–style tell-all to a collection of vignettes about faith, difficult decisions, and people important to him. To be sure, Tobolowsky includes some truly worthwhile stories, not the least of which is a lengthy treatment of an Auschwitz survivor he came to know and whose story he decided to share through film. The author succeeds as a writer in that his prose captures the imagination and keeps readers’ attention; as a memoir, however, the book is aimless, oddly structured, and only tangentially related to his supposed theme.
An uneven Hollywood memoir with a bit of divinity thrown in.