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A Meaningful Life (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 10, 2009
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"The story, delivered with terrific brio, proceeds as a phantasmagoria of urban decay and heightened obsession. It is also extremely funny if you can put politically correct scruples to the side - which should be easy enough as the true butt of the novel is Lowell himself." —Katherine Powers, The Boston Globe
"Stultified by his job (editing a plumbing magazine) and his mind-numbing marriage ('a cross between Long Day's Journey into Night and Father Knows Best'), frustrated novelist Lowell Lake welcomes a new obsession: renovating a monstrously dilapidated mansion in a Brooklyn slum. What follows, in L.J. Davis's deadpan 1971 novel A Meaningful Life, reissued by NYRB Classics, is pure chaos, as Lowell confronts a cast of urban squatters, in some of the most brilliant comic turns this side of Alice in Wonderland. A cathartic read for urban pioneers." --O, The Oprah Magazine
"A rediscovered American classic from the 1970s, this is a darkly comic portrayal of broken dreams." --Waterstone Books Quarterly
"Here's a real rediscovery...This strange comic masterwork is compared to the work of Kingsley Amis in Jonathan Lethem's new introduction. That's almost right, but the feel is darker, and there's a touch of Patricia Highsmith too; it's all about gentrification, and, ultimately, madness." --The Los Angeles Times
“He has an erring sense of timing, of taste, of restraint. He has written some truly marvelous passages about New York. He has an absolute eye for the telling detail…An author who is clearly capable, funny at the proper times, both brutally and cheerfully perceptive.” –The New York Times
A novel that “has the authentically crazy tintinnabulation of our times…Mr. Blandings in a situation comedy by Kafka.” –Book World
“[Davis] has a fine comic gift; a clear-eyed view of those who imagine that mere accumulation is life itself.” –Paula Fox
“Davis is seen by some as a kind of Evelyn Waugh of the American urban crisis.” –The Washington Post
About the Author
L. J. Davis was an author and prize-winning journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Mother Jones, and Harper’s, among other publications.
Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels, including Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude. He lives in Brooklyn and in Maine.
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Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately, the second half of the book focuses less on his marriage in order to recount Lowell's attempt to create an identity by renovating a broken down home in Brooklyn. He makes a game attempt but Lowell Lake is a man who has no friends, can't catch a ball and has so little clue that he prefers Linda Thorsen to Diana Rigg on the Avengers. (How's that for an obscure pop cultural reference by Davis?) Lake's failed effort lifts him almost to the level of a tragic hero but the reader remembers him more as the man who wakes up at night and intones aloud, "I am not a nerd."
This a quick and very enjoyable book. Read it for the priceless portraits of Lake's in-laws and for the new level of meaning Lowell Lake's existence brings to the word "meaningful."
The book also appealed because I love all things New York and am fascinated by the 1970's especially. Davis does a fantastic job communicating the social and economic forces of change taking place. Lowell's attempt to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn is almost voyeuristic. His encounters with the various characters are fun and I like to think accurate. The challenges that the renovation brings is at once pathetic, hopeful, and futile. The mansion he purchases and fixates on was built in the mid 19th century by a tycoon, Civil War hero, corporation lawyer, and adventurer.Read more ›
While this is a good read, it isn't great because Davis tries to do too much here. It becomes confusing, muddled, and a bit over the top. The possible murder? The possible affair? The feeble attempts by the protagonist to reconcile with his wife? All of this -- in the space of some 200 pages -- feels a bit scattered. It would have better, and perhaps more effective, had the story unfolded without some elements. The author could have explored the themes of West to East, decline of America, etc. without some of the more over-the-top aspects.
In the end, it is enjoyable and a good illustration of 1960s urban America, but not a classic.
The book is divided into two segments in the life of Lowell Lake. The first is of a clueless inoffensive Midwestern youth who pays for his entire Stanford education by accidentally blackmailing a judge. Really. He managed to notice virtually nothing about his surroundings until he is confronted with his mother-in-law the day before the wedding. This he notices, and he flees. But not far, and he returns. After graduation they accidentally end up in New York instead of Berkeley. Really. And after discovering that he has no natural born ability to be a novelist, or anything else, apparently, he wanders into a job as the managing editor of a plumbing magazine. There is every reason to believe he will retain that boring job married to his boring wife, living his thoroughly boring life. But slowly he shifts, in teeny tiny ways, and instead of boredom he feel restlessness and as it rises he can tell that something will need to change.
Enter stage right...Brooklyn in the 1970s! No boredom anywhere in sight. Instead we have danger, insanity, racial hatred, greed. A sure antidote to boredom. Jonathan Lethem's introduction reminds us of that era and in particular the section of Brooklyn where Lethem's parents and the Davis' had brownstones. Lethem grew up with Davis' son, and we are given a short portrait of an author as quirky as the novel's characters.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
any of you who appreciate Jonathan Lethem or Paul Auster should like this book. Brooklyn as character...dark humor...quirky characters...you can't beat thatPublished on January 29, 2014 by Mary E. Dawson
Whether Jew or non-Jew himself, Brooklyner Davis represents a late manifestation of bleak broad-brush burlesque in the vein of Bruce Jay Friedman and the terminally depressing... Read morePublished on December 7, 2012 by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
Maybe yu have to be of a certain age to enjoy the humor, the lack of PC and the sheer good writing.
'A Meaningful Life' is about, among other things, the great American quest... Read more
Some years ago I read Paula Fox's Desperate Characters.I liked it but thought it overated.A Meaningful Life has understandbly been compared to Fox's novel. Read morePublished on December 19, 2009 by JAK