Wednesday, November 05, 2008

St. Louis Dispatch review of Three Balconies

From the St. Louis Dispatch, a review of Friedman's Three Balconies. Friedman will be in St. Louis as part of the Jewish Bookfair there this Friday.

Prankster Friedman reveals his alter ego

"As is the case with most men, Harry wanted to be taken seriously and resented the suggestion that he was not a serious man," begins one of the stories in "Three Balconies." "Yet there may have been some truth to the charge."

It's a theme taken up again and again in this delightful new collection by Bruce Jay Friedman. Harry, an aging writer and the charming protagonist of three of the book's stories, weighs his literary output against the years he spent chasing women and churning out Hollywood scripts. Alexander, a failed novelist, dreams of escape through prison, while the writer Baum is stymied by the success of his prolific nemesis.

Not failures, exactly, each of the characters looks back on his life with a sense of good-natured puzzlement. Whether his name is Baum, Harry or Alexander, the protagonist in most of the stories is in essence the same person, given to the same preoccupations. By the time Friedman, who penned the screenplays for the hit movies "Splash" and "Stir Crazy," has a character repeatedly mention his Two Big Pictures, it's impossible not think of all these Harrys as tweaked versions of the author himself. In a departure from the strictly realistic style, several stories read like off-beat fantasies, riffs on daydreams that end with a twist. This is Friedman in prankster-mode, and you can almost hear him chuckle as he has his bit of fun. In the hilarious "The People Person," an unnamed president with ties to Texas is abducted and "tortured" with literature. In "The Reversal," a troubled psychiatrist unburdens himself to a long-time patient.

Though humorous, not all of these lighter pieces are successful, and one wonders whether it's precisely this kind of work that fuels the self-doubt of his alter-ego in Friedman's more serious stories. If so, they are worth it.

A graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Friedman will appear on the Missouri's Own panel at the Jewish Book Festival with local authors Jody Feldman ("The Gollywhopper Games") and Joanna Campbell Slan ("Paper, Scissors, Death."

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