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I hadn't read any stories by Woody Allen for 27 years the reason being that he hadn't published any in book form, when I saw his latest collection of stories, I bought it at once. After more than a quarter of a century I didn't remember any details of his early stories but I remembered that they had amused me.
The book contains 18 stories eight of which have never been in print before, nine were first published in The New Yorker, the others come from other magazines. Four stories begin with a paragraph from a newspaper article on some current zeitgeisty event, the others don't name the source where the author got his inspiration from but they also deal with what contemporary American urbanites (read: New Yorkers), mostly of Jewish descent, have on their minds or are worried by.
What is that? To give you some idea: how to get in touch with one's inner self and become an expert at levitation, translocation, omniscience; where to buy clothes with conductive properties and a built-in hydration system; the tyrannical powers a nanny has over a family; how to write prayers for eBay which can be purchased by auction; what to do if your son makes a film in summer camp which turns out to be worth millions and the boss of the camp wants a fat share of the profit; how to react when you're asked to finance a Broadway play about the invention and manufacture of the adjustable showerhead; what happens if your three-year-old-son fails the entrance interview in the very best nursery school in Manhattan - my fave story. Even if you have the most vivid imagination you can't guess which consequences the rejection has for the little boy and his family.
Most of the stories follow the pattern: an event which is already grotesque in itself is blown up to gigantic proportions often leading to a catastrophe. I find this funny, the idea and the execution amuse me, I'm definitely on Woody Allen's wave-length.
Yet. Yes, there is a *yet*. As is so often the case, too much can be too much. Allen's stories are perfect for mags, where they can be enjoyed in small doses with a long Allen-free time in between, it doesn't do them good to be collected in a book. It has only 176 pages, of course, one reads it from beginning to end in one or two days, the stories wouldn't have been collected if they shouldn't be read all together. Satiety sets in and that's a pity. I don't know how to solve the dilemma, friends of Allen's humour can't subscribe to dozens of American mags hoping to catch one of his stories every blue moon, the stories must be collected, but if they are, they kill each other humour-wise.
Then there's also the language to be considered. No doubt, using rare and pompous words contribute to the humorous effect, but Allen exaggerates. There isn't one reader in the whole English speaking world who can understand all the words used in the stories without the help of a Thesaurus. As English is not my mother tongue, I looked through some reviews in order to find out how native speakers react to Allen's linguistic quirkiness, the answer is: mostly negatively. Not only the many Yiddish expressions ("a tsimmes of talentless trombeniks") go down badly, also sentences like "Faulkner and Fitzgerald too leased their gifts to ex-schmatte moguls who stacked the Garden of Allah with scriveners brought west to spit ball box-office reveries". As one critic put it, "The difference between mock-pomposity...and the real thing is very slight, and actually works in favour of the real thing."
The names Allen has thought of stand in contrast to such high-flying nonsense, they're of the slapstick variety: Moe Bottomfeeder, Mike Umlaut, E Coli Biggs, Reg Millipede, Agamemnon Wurst. One such name at a time is funny, for example: B J Sygmnd, "a poor Austrian who lost all the vowels in his name in a boating accident" is good, isn't it? But again, too much is too much.
So who will enjoy these stories? Hardcore Allenophiles who don't mind the author still writing in the way he's always written, if all his stories were collected in one compendium without a chronological order one wouldn't know when he wrote what. I don't regret the perusal but I should have waited for the paperback.
Hardcover RRP 12.99 GBP
Paperback (June 5th, 2008) RRP 7.99 GBP