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Fiction in Brief

THE MAN WHO KNEW CARY GRANT by Jonathan Schwartz (Random House: $16.95)

September 04, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

This novel eloquently captures moments in the life of Norman Savitt, as he matures from middle to old age, and in the life of his son, Jesse, as he grows from childhood to middle age. Collectively, the moments tell a moving, bittersweet story, but Jonathan Schwartz doesn't weave them together in a neat narrative. Instead, he recounts events much as we might remember them ourselves--as a series of feelings jumbled out of chronological order. The lack of a traditional narrative doesn't make this novel any less absorbing, however, for Schwartz's characters emerge from each scene as likable and a bit mysterious, encouraging us to read on. In a few instances, Schwartz seems to lose confidence in his unusual technique and tries to hold our interest with overly showy writing: "And there now! Flashes of green and yellow: a salad."

For the most part, however, these scenarios seem remarkably realistic, probably because they are loosely modeled after Schwartz's own life: Norman is a successful songwriter, while the author's father was musical comedy composer Arthur Schwartz; Jesse is deeply drawn to music from his father's era, while Jonathan Schwartz performs that music in his work as a popular disk jockey and nightclub singer in New York City. Because of the focus on father and son, this is a particularly masculine novel. Schwartz re-creates boyhood dreams--"All Jesse wanted to do for the rest of his life was to have a catch with someone, all day every day right through the winter and spring and next summer and all next year"--and Dad's prominent place in them: "Norman DiMaggio!" Jesse yells as his father leaves, "his voice cracking up there so high." Schwartz also captures the growing distance between father and son as son matures and the need to recapture the bonds of childhood as Father becomes frail: "I'm old and invisible," Norman says. "Do you mean you're not Bruce Springsteen?" Jesse asks. "You're wasting your time wanting to be Springsteen. Now is the hour to enjoy the reruns."

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