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Mordecai Richler was born in Montreal in 1931. Among his most successful novels are The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, St. Urbain's Horseman, Solomon Gursky Was Here, and Barney's Version. He died in 2001.
Readers may never love Barney Panofsky, the self-destructive, self-loathing, derisive, womanizing, hot-tempered antihero of Richler's latest novel. But by the end of what he calls "this story of my wasted life,'' one feels sorrow and pity for a heartbroken man. At 68, Barney can't believe that the promising future that beckoned during the 1950s in Paris, when he was part of a group of would-be writers, was never fulfilled. After the suicide of his neurotic first wife, poet and feminist icon Clara Chambers, Barney returns to Montreal and becomes a producer of trashy TV commercials and films, marries again, disastrously, and later is accused of the murder of his mentor and best friend, the writer Bernard (Boogie) Moscovitch, whose body has never been discovered. Barney's guilt and grief over his role in Boogie's disappearance, his jealousy over the literary stardom of another Paris acquaintance, Terry McIver, and his heartsick knowledge that his selfishness, boozing and philandering were responsible for the departure of his beloved third wife, Miriam, have left him a hollow shell. Not that the novel is a downer, however. Though sometimes Barney's woes dampen the narrative tension, Richler still excels in writing hilarious, ribald scenes, many of them set in bars or in bed. The social fabric of Montreal continues to provide rich material, especially in characters who rose from its working-class Jewish neighborhood (Duddy Kravitz and members of the Gursky family make cameo appearances). Even Barney's attempts to deal with his increasing memory lapses will raise rueful laughter. Always irreverent, Richler is particularly uninhibited here, taking swipes at Philip Roth and Princess Di as well as other figures, wading into the issue of anti-Semitism with his dukes up. The knockout surprise solution to the mystery of Boogie's fate awaits on the very last page of this bittersweet tale (sure to provoke comparisons with Updike's Toward the End of Time), which, while it may not be Richler's best, is a mordant addition to his work. (Dec.)
You have to like a narrator who can ask about libel after being accused "in print, of being a wife-abuser, an intellectual fraud, a purveyor of pap, a drunk with a penchant for violence, and probably a murderer as well" only to have his lawyer answer "Sounds like [the writer] got things just about right." Richler is in top form with this first-person voice of Barney Panovsky, 67-year-old TV producer at Totally Useless Productions, thrice-married (the third being the one that matters, and she's gone; the second, after being found in bed with Barney's best friend, Boogie, is the catalyst for the putative murder), fretting over liver spots and mental slippage. The book is always hilarious, but the humor is sharpened by the psychological accuracy/honesty and the richness of detail; in short, this is one well-written book. There are even footnotes to help out when Barney gets something wrong. Absolutely for all collections, this is what Barney calls his third wife: "a keeper."‘Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
"Richler's great achievement. . . . Ebullient, manic, over the top." --Los Angeles Times "At once falling-down funny, angry, and heartbreakingly poignant." --The Dallas Morning News "Cunningly designed for maximum suspense and beaucoup laughs. . . . Exuberant." --Time "Vintage Richler: funny, tough, and touching." --San Francisco Examiner "Richler's aim is still deadly. . . . [With] a caustic wit and Falstaffian charm." --The New York Times Book Review "A fine, funny novel. . . . Deft, irreverent, and affecting." --The New York Times "A satisfying experience; this is a masterfully executed novel--a funny, touching, mature work." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch "[Richler's] best. . . . It is time to recognize Mr. Richler as one of North America's most powerful novelists." --The Washington Times "Grossly funny. . . . A rousing spectacle. . . . A novelist at the top of his game." --The Wall Street Journal "Funny and engaging. . . . Richler's admirers will not want to miss it." --Washington Post Book World "Richler brings off one of the most difficult feats of a satirical novelist--winning the affection of the reader for a character who is a world-class vulgarian. Barney is very, very funny." --The Boston Globe "Wildly comic. . . The years . . . have added depth to Richler's power to outrage and amuse." --New York Review of Books "Hilarious. . . . Barney Panofsky is right up there with such creations as Moses Herzog and Randle Patrick McMurphy as outrageous swimmers against the tide of conformity. His wicked sense of humor will endear him to all but the most censorious." --Minneapolis Star Tribune "A brilliantly slapdash fictional memoir. . . Hilarious. . . . Raucous but elegiac." --Entertainment Weekly "A rollicking novel laden with rue, a self-portrait of a creative personality who never found a creative outlet he could respect, a paean to the pleasures and perils of drink, a celebration of ice hockey and tap dancing . . . [and] a murder mystery with an uproarious solution." --The New Yorker "A touching human work [which] celebrates the power of love, the importance of family, the value of work, and the frightening process of aging. . . . [An] eloquent portrait of an impossible man." --Toronto Star