Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lucky Life of Bruce Jay Friedman

Kassie Rose, of NPR's WOSU, reviews Friedman's new literary memoir over at The Longest Chapter:

I didn’t ever see the movies Stir Crazy (1980) and Splash (1984). Both popular flicks were “penned,” as the industry likes to say, by Bruce Jay Friedman, whose delightful memoir is out this month. Considering I’m also unfamiliar with Friedman’s nine novels, let alone his six collections of short fiction, it’s a wonder I pushed aside my organized reading plan and put Lucky Bruce: A Literary Memoir first in line.

But then, I like what’s coming out of Biblioasis, the book’s publisher. They caught my attention a while back with Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting, a collection of short stories that drove me to act similarly — I began reading MacLeod’s collection within moments after receiving it in my mailbox. Also, likely influencing my decision of what to read next, I desperately wanted a book on the lighter side. Friedman’s take on his life clearly fit that need with his humorous, self-effacing, name-dropping, candid storytelling. I dove into his memoir eagerly and was rewarded sumptuously on every page.

Friedman is a long-time successful writer, screenwriter and playwright whose heyday occurred during the second half of the 20th century. His memoir flourishes on the insider wit about the famous friends met along the way, as well as his hilarious sometimes jaw-dropping experiences in the world of Hollywood screenwriting and New York City literati.

There are so many entertaining riches in this book it’s impossible to cast a far enough net to capture them, from encounters with actresses Natalie Wood and Marlene Dietrich to competitive storytelling with playwright Harold Pinter. And then there’s the time Friedman engaged in a public fist fight with Norman Mailer. One of my favorite anecdotes involves Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road. He just appeared one day at the Magazine Management Company, an organization that published men’s adventure magazines where Friedman worked for many years. Friedman writes:

“He sat down behind an empty desk as if he worked on the magazines and hung around for weeks. It was difficult to know what to do with him. He was a disheveled-looking man with a handsomely ruined face and the hangdog demeanor of a sheepdog who had wandered in off the street. I knew of his quality. I had read Revolutionary Road and the word-perfect Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. But there was no job available at the time; nor did he ask for one. He just wanted to sit there, as if we were operating a shelter of some kind. He rarely spoke.”

for the rest of the review, please go here.

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