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Play It Again Woody
on 2 September 2009
I didn't expect to be criticising a Woody Allen book but Mere Anarchy seldom reaches the heights of any of his previous trilogy, nor does it really stray from the same themes and situations. In fact, there were a number of weak formulaic stories that hardly raised a chuckle, never mind the involuntary guffaw common to the 5 star Getting Even, Side Affects and Without Feathers. Woody's strong and frequent New York, Jewish dialect and references also make comprehension a bit difficult at times and obscure some of the undoubtedly brilliant metaphors, but i suppose that's my problem as an English speaker ;-)
However, even if the story ideas aren't as strong as previous collections there is a wealth of small detail to delight in the dialogue, rhetoric and idiom on every page. The names of characters are great too - Flanders Mealworm, Pontius Perry, Max Endorphine, Reg Millipede, Murray Pepkin, Velveeta Belknap - reminiscent of PG Wodehouse.
The stories commonly follow the downward spiralling fortunes of the subject, with the comically self-deprecating hero involved in absurd deals and transactions with showbiz promoters, agents, building contractors, patients and doctors - Allen employing bathos (and other classic comic elements) to ridicule all kinds of artistic pretension - eg a Broadway play about the invention and manufacture of the adjustable showerhead, or the songwriting titles and lyrics of undiscovered genius Pepkin eg "A Side Order of Heartache, Please" and "Embrace me, disgrace me, just don't erase me from your rolodex". Unfortunately it's often the same joke dressed in different, if admittedly witty, words.
My favourite stories were Below the Box Springs and Pinchuck's Law - right at the end - which i felt were consistently funny - too many of the others felt a bit like rejects or unedited drafts from his earlier books.
In spite of all these reservations it is an extremely funny book in Allen's unique style. I suppose you'll either love or hate it then. I suspect it may seem a bit male chauvinist (is that the Jewish influence?) to some sensitive souls. I look forward to reading it again with a New York Dictionary.