on August 7, 2001
This is the story of an unlikely friendship in which Mose Sharp is the straight man indeed. A good-looking stagestruck Jewish kid from the midwest, his career is going nowhere (he comes perilously close to getting hooked off stage) until he meets fat, funny Rocky Carter, whose knockabout comic career set to take off. Rocky sees something in Mose, and together they launch Carter and Sharp, the fat-guy-skinny-guy comedy team to beat �em all. On stage and off, Mose's life is transformed by his partnership with talented, outrageous, big-hearted, demanding Rocky. In their thirty years together that friendship will be tested at many twists and turns, and when that friendship ends the reader feels its loss almost as much as Mose does.
Sorry if the first paragraph makes "Niagara Falls" sound pretty morose. It's not. Elizabeth McCracken balances skilfully on the tightrope between yearning and yucks to make "Niagara Falls All Over Again" more than a show-biz novel or a nostalgia piece. She builds on the inventive voice first heard in "The Giant's House" to reach one of those rare levels where although you're tickled by these guys' foibles, in the center of your chest you feel the hurt and longing behind the jokes. "Niagara Falls" will move you and make you laugh. What more can you ask of good fiction?
Anyone who reads this book in the mistaken belief that it will be a pleasant and nostalgic escape into vaudeville, the golden age of film, and the early days of television, may be disappointed. This is not Carter Beats the Devil, delightful as that book is--it's far more ambitious. McCracken uses a narrow focus on one Abbott/Costello type comedy team over a span of sixty years to delve into the broad spectrum of human emotions which makes life meaningful for each of us, insightfully developing themes about family, friendship, love, and the essence of communion and connection.
Mose Sharp (Sharensky), a Jewish boy from Valley Junction, Iowa, is an only son among six sisters, destined to inherit his father's men's clothing store, until his sister Hattie inspires him to take his chances with vaudeville. He runs away, meets up with Rocky Carter, for whom he acts as straight man, and becomes half of a successful team, which goes from vaudeville, to popular B-movies, radio, and TV in the age of Eddie Cantor and Milton Berle. Giving proof to the idea that you can take the boy out of Iowa but you can't take Iowa out of the boy, Mose remains true to the values he learned at home, escaping their narrow limitations while preserving their essence and, in contrast to Rocky, forming lasting and loving relationships.
As McCracken explores the off-again, on-again relationship of Mose and Rocky over the span of sixty years, she draws parallels and contrasts between their relationship and that of a marriage, between friendship and family, between sharing an act and sharing one's life, between the little deaths inherent in a tumultuous partnership and the very real deaths one must cope with in real life. It's a thoughtful, sensitive exploration of ideas within an intriguing framework, loaded with original imagery and observations ("he was a parsnippy-looking guy, scraped and pale..."; "eyebrows so plucked they looked like columns of marching ants"). Though I admired McCracken's earlier novel, The Giant's House, I was thrilled by this one. Mary Whipple
Elizabeth McCracken takes an ambitious idea of the personal and professional relationship between two vaudeville performers and makes it soar with humor, depth, and heart. Out narrator Mose Sharp is a young Jewish boy growing up in Iowa who is given the dream of vaudeville by his sister Hattie. But the story really takes off when he meets the man who is to become his partner and friend for some thirty odd years, Rocky Carter.From the midwest to the Hollywood Hills, McCracken paints a set of characters so real, so realized you feel like you're reading a wonderful celebrity bio that remembers an America captured in nostalgia. The book was faintly reminiscent to me of Michael Chabon's "Kavalier & Clay" as they're both set in the same general timeline; And if you enjoyed that book, you'd probably like this as well. It also made me, in light of recent events, feel like a part of Americana was captured. And that in itself was a small comfort and joy. A great book.
on August 19, 2001
A rip roaring, hilarious novel about a vaudeville team. I know the world of stand up comedy and duos very well and this book sums it up perfectly. The insanity that happens to teams, the egos, the hard work and instant gratification. I had to keep putting the book down as I was laughing out loud. Gosh, I am envious! A terrific book.
on April 22, 2003
Niagara Falls All Over Again is an eclectic, bittersweet and poignant novel relating the relationship and careers of Carter and Sharp, a vaudeville team that graduated to B-Movie stardom that is patterned somewhat, at leas from a physical perspective, on Laurel & Hardy. (One would expect the resemblance to be bothersome but in fact it is not.)
As is to be expected, the real life aspects of the Carter and Sharp relationship are nothing like their on-stage/on-screen antics. It is the development of this relationship and it's evolution from small time success to larger success and, ultimately, dissolution, that constitutes the core of the novel. To a great degree, it's not a pretty story in the way so many show biz tales aren't pretty stories. However, McCracken deftly avoids the over maudlin through deft timing and timely wisecracking from Carter, the narrator and, naturally, the straight man of the duo.
McCracken excels with the offbeat, and while this duo is ostensibly more mainstream than the protagonist of her first novel, the excellent the Giant's House, their circumstances-economic, emotional, romantic, legal and so on, provide McCracken with ample ammunition to delve into the offbeat and eccentric, areas that provide very fertile ground for McCracken to plow through.
In the end the book is about both the constructive as well as the destructive aspects of fame on personality as displayed through the very different experiences of the two protagonists. That McCracken can develop tow such divergent characters and keep the reader engaged and interested in both, despite the fact that both are somewhat loathsome, self-centered and immature in the extreme, is a testament to her skills as a writer.
A very solid follow-up to her first novel and a very engaging read overall.
on February 19, 2014
I've read numerous short stories by Elizabeth McCracken and loved them. This book was a different story altogether. So much information that added nothing to the story. There was a moment here and there when I thought I was going to get drawn into the story but it just never happened. I almost stopped reading but had read a few reviews that said the story picks up later. Well, it never did--not for me anyway. It felt like reading an instruction manual. I should have quit at the beginning.
on July 31, 2003
This is a love story: the funny, sad, sweet and frustrating marriage and divorce of the comedy twosome Carter and Sharp, complete with a honeymoon at the fabled Falls of the title. It is the memoir of Mose "Mike" Sharp, the skinny straight man of the duo. Although Mose and Rocky successfully chase women all over vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood, the great romance of both of their lives is with one another. Filled with exasperation and affection it is a straight man's love letter to the talented fat man who got all the good lines. The novel works because the relationship at its core keeps our interest. Mose and Rocky frustrate each other, support each other, deeply and genuinely love each other but, in the end, betray each other.
Despite the many sad events in the lives of these characters, the book could never be called maudlin and is often downright funny. Carter and Sharp are comics, remember. There is a wry wit to Mose's memoir and much of the dialogue is so clever it is worth reading twice, just too savor. It's fun without being lightweight.
on December 5, 2011
This book blew me away. My girlfriend suggested it to me, and if I wasn't already in love with her, I would be after reading Niagara Falls All Over Again. McCracken's writing is flawless. She is funny without being campy or cheap. She writes tragically without being overwrought. The book blends that comedy and despair beautifully.
on April 27, 2006
Mose Sharp looks back on his life and his deep love for his comedic partner, Rocky Carter. Mose adores his family, and has many adventures independent of Rocky, but all roads seem to lead back to him. This is a page-turner of a novel, especially for fans of comedy. It's fun to spot the homage - Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Arbuckle & Keaton, etc. Many of the incidents in the trajectory of Carter & Sharp are reminiscent of real-life events.
I might have given the book five stars, except I had a hard time understanding why Mose loved Rocky so much (at least, by the end of the book). Rocky isn't the most sympathetic character ever developed. Mose, however, is lovely, and fictional or not, I would love to know him.
on May 13, 2004
I enjoyed this book because Elizabeth McCracken is so good at her craft. Anything she'd choose to write about I'd read, just to hear the fresh metaphors, just to see the way she strings sentences along, just for the pleasure of rolling my eyes over her well sculpted paragraphs.
But the characters of Rocky Carter and Mose Sharp didn't really interest me. The story has a smooth, frosted feeling to it-like the author baked a cake and decorated it in an absolutely gorgeous way. I want to look at it, but I don't actually want to ingest it; a lovely creation but lacking in nutritional value. A great read it if that's exactly what you're in the mood for: a well made, beautiful, dessert.