I couldn't believe my luck when I read that Jonathan Goldstein's novella Lenny Bruce is Dead was being published in America (sometime around March, by Perseus Books). Until now, only the Canadians (those lucky Canadians!) had access to it. I had discovered Goldstein's writing in the"Funny Pages" section of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. While I have to admit I found the graphic novel and the serialized story somewhat heavy sledding, Goldstein's two first-person humorous essays were hilarious, fresh, and inspiring. I hoped there was a book by him.
I scoured the Internet for the publicist, shot out the e-mails, letters, faxes and then, voila, in a plain brown paper bag was Lenny Bruce is Dead. I devoured the book -- only 191 pages of super short chapters with really big type -- greedily, in one sitting. It was different than I expected. Less than I expected. I have to admit, I expected fireworks; instead I got a dull, wet pop. It wasn't horrible. In many ways, it was quirky, and edgy, and delightful. It took chances. It shot out strange epigrams and episodes, gnarly phrases, ironic twists. And it had the courtesy of not being long. But -- and I guess this is the main point -- it didn't delight me like his perhaps more conventional comic narratives. Something about the strange slant, sort of a pseudo-Saunders post-modern humor thing, didn't grab me. The narrative conceit, if that's what it was, of the brother of some kind of Chassidic Grand Rebbe peddling Kosher love oil, hmmm, seemed a little less than hilarious. As I say, there were great moments. You could almost call them riffs. I guess the novella wants to build in somewhat of a musical way, but it just seems like disconnected blasts to me.
Here are a couple of examples; they are great. But I think they could have fallen anywhere in the "narrative"; unless I'm too unhip to realize that there is no narrative happening here, just text, or whatever it is I've been missing in all those articles in the Journal of Saussarian Studies. Anyhow, I like them in isolation.
It was like that time the Ferris wheel broke down and he was stuck up there for three days. It was just like that. How they had to blast sandwiches up to him out of a cannon. How he kept missing and missing the sandwiches until he got one right in his hand and he squished it and almost started crying.
He was wearing the shirt that made him feel burly.
Or; He was making conversation and she was making pauses.
Good bursts. In a strange, surreal setting. But, to me, it didn't feel as full and as natural and as funny (OK, I know everything has to be funny, but I'd just like to know -- why not?) as some of the other things I've read by him.
Nevertheless, I'll still devour any piece of Goldstein's I'm lucky enough to come across in the future.
'Til next time...
Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.