The Peace Process: A Novel­la and Stories

  • Review
By – November 9, 2015

At age 85 and after a writ­ing career span­ning more than 60 years, Bruce Jay Fried­man might be beyond crit­i­cism. This col­lec­tion of sto­ries and a novel­la is vin­tage Fried­man: anar­chic and obses­sive, fun­ny and sad in equal mea­sure and often in the same sto­ry. Whether one finds the mix endear­ing or annoy­ing depends on one’s taste for the kind of humor that Fried­man him­self pop­u­lar­ized u way back in 1965 in an anthol­o­gy he edit­ed enti­tled Black Humor. There have been great black humorists — those whose anar­chic humor illu­mi­nates the mad­ness of civ­i­liza­tion — and Fried­man, if not at the top of that cat­e­go­ry, cer­tain­ly has claims to be a totemic fig­ure to a tribe of humorists that seems to grow by the week.

It’s impos­si­ble to give the fla­vor of a Fried­man sto­ry. They all start out with bril­liant and wild­ly diver­gent con­cepts: a Jew­ish satir­ic writer in Nazi Ger­many gets an unex­pect­ed call from his biggest fan, Joseph Goebbels (“A Fan Is A Fan”); a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege lit­er­a­ture teacher dies and goes to a place where there are no sto­ries and has to come up with one in 23 hours but can’t remem­ber the details of all he has read (“The Sto­ry­teller”); a pro­fes­sor attends a play about psy­cho­analy­sis and hires the actor play­ing the psy­chi­a­trist to serve as his ther­a­pist (“Night­gown”); a down-at-the-heels movie direc­tor vis­it­ing Israel helps a young Pales­tin­ian he meets in a hotel to go to New York to attend his brother’s wed­ding in Queens (“The Peace Process”); a man meets some­one in a resort who years ear­li­er had stolen his first wife from him (“The Sav­ior”). The work­ing out of these sit­u­a­tions is not always the main point; the jux­ta­po­si­tions, swerves, and bizarre digres­sions are what give them their unique­ly Fried­manesque tex­ture. Some­times they fall com­plete­ly flat, such as in the title sto­ry, which seems to reach a stun­ning anti­cli­max after a wild­ly improb­a­ble but fun­ny plot. Not unex­pect­ed­ly for a writer who has been at it as long as Fried­man has, there are rep­e­ti­tions and retreads (“Night­gown” is a vari­ant of a sit­u­a­tion from an ear­li­er sto­ry, Black Angels”). The dia­logue often has a clunky feel, per­haps delib­er­ate­ly. You’ll either find the effects charm­ing or want to hurl the book across the room.

Fried­man came of lit­er­ary age with Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Woody Allen, John Barth, and many oth­ers who reshaped fic­tion both long and short for bet­ter or worse. Friedman’s career had its apogee near­ly 50 years ago with his nov­els Stern and A Mother’s Kiss­es and his plays Steam­bath and Scu­ba Duba. (He also had great suc­cess as a screen­writer with such hits as Splash and Stir Crazy). He still per­sists, long after many of his con­tem­po­raries have depart­ed the scene. Some of these sto­ries are not among his best (see his 1997 Col­lect­ed Sto­ries) but they all have their moments of plea­sure (and pain).

Relat­ed Content:

Mar­tin Green is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty, where he taught lit­er­a­ture and media stud­ies. He is work­ing on a book about Amer­i­can pop­u­lar peri­od­i­cals in the 1920s.

Discussion Questions