There is no question that Alan Zweibel is a funny guy. Hell, he was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, before anyone could say, "Remember when it was good?" It was good then. He hob-nobs with Garry Shandling (perhaps he even had a hand in the original jingle for Shandling's original show, one of the funniest ever; if memory serves, it went something like, "This is the song for the Garry Shandling Show, this is the catchy title song for the Garry Shandling Show"...funny). He's buds with Larry David, had a huge hand in Billy Crystal's smash Broadway play.
And, true to form, his novel, The Other Shulman, is funny.In parts. The banter, the writing, whips and rips and trips like you're hanging out in the cafeteria back in college listening to THE COLLEGE FUNNY GUY "riff." I chuckled, audibly, a few times while reading it. A good sign.
But, unfortunately, as a book -- a novel, a sustained piece of literary fiction, a story -- The Other Shulman doesn't live up to the sum of its parts. It feels cobbled together, old strips of clear cellophane tape, some Elmer's glue, a scrap of duct tape here, some masking tape there. This despite, as I said, some very funny lines and one of the most ingenious and sophisticated plot twists I've seen in any fiction this side of Russian existentialists.
Story snapshot: Shulman, an overweight, under-loved stationary store owner from Ft. Lee, New Jersey, decides to try to get rid of the 35 pounds he's been gaining and losing his whole life by running the New York Marathon. Shulman calls the combined total of all the weight he's put on and dieted off the other Shulman. The cool plot twist is the apparent appearance of the other Shulman -- to use a big, fancy lit word, his doppelganger. Oh, the rest of the story. Shulman finds and loses love, etc. (his business blah blah) in the course of preparing for and running the marathon.
While loveable, like a puppy dog with a nasty little bark, after a couple hundred pages of his shtick, with surgically implanted doses of sympathy and empathy, you just stop caring. Even the doppelganger Shulman seems to get bored.
Again, this despite some really brilliant comic asides on having parents, kids, diets, and so on. There is an AIDS-related subplot, which, while I'm sure it reflects the best intentions in the world, seems a bit like a foreign body in the fibre of this novel.
In an interview, Zweibel said he stole time to write The Other Shulman while waiting for traffic lights to change in L.A. on the way to and from T.V. meetings. One wishes the lights would have stayed red a little longer.
'Til next time... Ken Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.