By David Evanier (Rager Media, 2007)
We all do it, right? Before we read a book, we look at the blurbs, look at the publishing house, look at the bio, look at the acknowledgments, put it all together, and try to figure out if this writer is somebody. (Isn’t it nice to pigeon-hole a writer before you’ve read one word of her work?) But then sometimes you do all that stuff and at the end of it still have no idea what to think. Such was the case after I’d done my superficial canvass of The Great Kisser, by David Evanier, published by the little known — okay, unknown — Rager Media, of Akron, Ohio. Never heard of the guy, for one thing. Couldn’t quite believe that, as his bio claimed, he’d once been fiction editor of The Paris Review. And while one blurb was from Sven Birkerts, and another from Stephen Dixon, the third was from Norman Podhoretz.
So I read the book.
It is splendid. A story cycle that loses some power as it goes along — its constituent parts get a bit repetitive — it is the travelogue through life of one Michael Goldberg, a New York kid, now in his upper years, a writer who never quite made it, spent some time in Hollywood, didn’t quite make it there either, unlucky in love, obsessed with Sinatra and the other crooners. Misplaced in time, probably should have been born fifty years earlier. The courtship rituals of an earlier era would have helped him with the ladies, and the music was more to his liking. The opening novella, “The Tapes,” about Goldberg’s psychiatrist’s leaving him tapes of dozens of hours of sessions with patients, is funny, touching, touched, and memorable. “Scraps,” about the high school sweetheart who got away, is so wonderfully dead-on earnest you almost have to look away.
If you don’t quite get it yet, think Starting Out in the Evening, by Brian Morton, mixed with some of the poignant scenes from Annie Hall and some of the bleak sex one finds in Leonard Michaels. In fact, this book’s closest kin is Michaels’s gets-in-your-bones good novella Sylvia. Same NYC without the air-conditioning, love that can’t last, that sort of thing. New Yorkish and Jewish and intellectual, but lacking confidence and mostly lacking money — that’s Michael Goldberg. Also, he has a weird affinity for mobsters.
Good books are published in Akron, it seems.
Mark Oppenheimer is an editor of the New Haven Review.