I've tried and erased a number of snazzy titles for this post. Is it me; am I just not feeling creative? Or is it this book?
I Never Saw Paris, by Harry Freund.
First, a disclaimer of sorts. This book was sent to me by the publisher Carroll & Graf. Well, first they asked if I wanted to read it. I, who have never turned down a free book, said Sure. Therefore, I feel morally bound to not trash Harry's second novel.
I never read Harry's first novel, Love With Noodles. It was praised by none other than Francine Klagsbrun and Gloria Goldreich, two of the matriarchs of Jewish letters. I know some authors get paid for their pull quotes, but I suspect this was more a case of Francine, Gloria, and Harry all being on the board of the same New York shul.
Second, this book does not stink. Despite the fact that I upended a full glass of milk on it, and then just left the milk-soaked pages to swell and ripple on this own. There is no scent of sour about it now, which speaks well for the paper Carroll & Graf used.
Third, I never read Mitch Albom's Five People You Meet in Heaven. Maybe if I had I would recognize that Harry's I Never Saw Paris resonates with lively echoes of Mitch's work. Tell me if this sounds familiar: a group of people, strangers all, die in a freak car accident and have to insure their place in Heaven by...by...by hanging all their dirty laundry out to dry in front of several smart alecky angels. With wings, no less. Obviously stolen from the Angels in America set.
This is the frame, then. Each person has a different schtick, and I used that word advisedly since the Narrator sounds like everybody's Uncle Abe. One is a Holocaust survivor, another a gay prostitute. There's a black Christian lady whose only sin was stealing a diamond from her mean white boss. And a white woman who assuaged her loveless marriages by honing her shopping talents. And the Narrator, who made a lot of money and schtupped a lot of women, even though he was married. Okay, next point.
Fourth, Harry's strong suit is not titles. Nor is it, I regret to say, characterization. I would go into a whole lecture about Forster and Flat Characters, but that would be for Harry's sake, and I hope he doesn't read my blog.
Because, Fifth, I can't not trash this novel. Or--I can't praise it. It's cute, in an annoying way. The way Uncle Abe is at a bar mitzvah when he's had too much schnapps and starts falling into Cousin Ann's bosom. Drooling on it. And spraying whoever he's got in his grip with half-masticated bits of white fish, bagel, and rugelach.
Sixth, I cry for the trees that died for this book.
Seventh, if you like to read anything Jewish, go right out and buy I Never Saw Paris, by Harry I. Freund.