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Bedfellows Paperback – October 16, 2012
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A zany cast of characters drives this lighthearted Mob story set in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Beach. Jack Schiavone, who lost his job and ended up in jail protecting a girlfriend, moves to Brooklyn and opens a mattress store. He gets involved with the Mob when one of the Donato family’s enforcers comes by to collect protection money. Business has fallen off for the Donatos—the economy hurts mobsters, too—and now the Russian Mafia is trying to move into the Donatos’ neighborhood. But the family has a plan: hire a hit man, albeit a cut-rate version who doubles as chiropractor, to solve their problems. Meanwhile, Jack has fallen for Donato’s daughter, a legal-aid attorney, and together they try to convince the don to get out of the rackets and go legitimate. There is not a lot of action until the end; instead, the story is propelled via anecdotes about the family in all its glorious insanity. There hasn’t been a Mob crew this funny since Jimmy Breslin’s The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Fans of Tim Dorsey will embrace these strange bedfellows. --Stacy Alesi
About the Author
Bob Garfield is a columnist, broadcast personality, and author. He is co-host of On the Media, a Peabody Award–winning weekly news magazine produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. He is also co-host of the insanely popular Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, a weekly conversation about language. An inveterate journalist, he is a columnist for both MediaPost and the Guardian and the author of three previous nonfiction books. Another book, yet untitled, will be published in January 2013 by Penguin Portfolio. Garfield has also written for such diverse publications as the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Atlantic, Wired, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy. He lives in suburban Washington, D.C., with his film-producer wife, Milena Trobozic Garfield, and youngest daughter. He can barely locate Brooklyn on a map.
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While certainly entertaining, i can't really recommend the novel except as an airplane read or for other Bob Garfield fans. It's light and amusing, but also extremely campy and not remotely believable. And i'm not talking about technicalities of organized crime or anything like that, as i'd be in no position to vet such details. When i say it's 'not believable', i mean it's hard to imagine there exists, anywhere in the world, people who would make the series of decisions that are made in this book. A healthy dose of Suspension of Disbelief is needed.
Did i laugh out loud while reading it? More than once. But did i also consider putting the book down because it was just too contrived? Probably more times than i laughed out loud.
And that's precisely what happens in Bedfellows, an often quirky, sometimes snarky and thoroughly enjoyable novel about organized crime in Brooklyn, New York. We meet Jack Schiavone, an ex-ad agency executive who has been run off of Madison Avenue because of the scandal surrounding some accounting irregularities. As a result, we find him reinventing himself as "Mr. Mattress," a bargain bedding store in the fictional neighborhood of Ebbets Beach, Brooklyn. But this is not the somewhat hip Brooklyn of small specialty restaurants, now-fashionable boutique stores and an array of ethnic cuisine. This is the beachfront area, old-school Brooklyn... and where the mob still exists.
Mr. Mattress soon finds himself face-to-face with one of the most hopeless mob outfits that could be imagined: the Donato Family. Headed by the Don, it's been years since they've bumped anyone off, so they're not really prepared when the immigrant Russians make a move on their turf. Add to this, Jack winds up getting close to the family when he falls for Angela Donato, the Don's beautiful and very independent daughter, then becomes involved in a scheme to take down the Russian mob before they take over Ebbets Beach.
To divulge any more details here would be to ruin the countless surprises in this tale.
Even the name of the setting of Ebbets Beach as a fictional part of Brooklyn caused a smile with this reader, as the long-gone Ebbets Field was the major league baseball park located in Brooklyn, and the often lamented (locally) home of Brooklyn Dodgers before their move to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. It doesn't take much to see author Garfield putting a darkly witty spin on what will become easily recognizable to those familiar with the Brighton Beach area of the town that bears a sign outside of Borough Hall reading "Welcome to Brooklyn: the 4th Largest City in America." And Brighton Beach is known for its high population of Russian-speaking immigrants. It all fits.
The author has created a myriad of hilarious characters, along with a well-developed and fast paced plot, resulting in a highly enjoyable and fast moving story. Any criticism would be that one needs to pay close attention to the many character introductions. Luckily for the reader, it's the clever humor as we progress through the ongoing pages that keep the colorful individuals memorable.
For this reader here's the strange part: I was about halfway through reading this book on a NYC subway in the middle of a cold winter day, and a fellow passenger struck up a conversation when he saw the title, stating that it was on his reading list. The woman on my left chimed in and said that she had also been considering it. We had an interesting three-way conversation, they both wanted my business card, and while I was digging in my messenger bag, the train pulled into the station. I looked up, pulling out a couple of cards, and they were both gone... and so was my book. Scams worthy of Ebbets Beach happen.
I hate being halfway through an enjoyable book and having the ending interrupted, so it was back here to buy Bedfellows as a Kindle edition, then picking up where I had left off. It was worth it.
Bob Garfield is not unknown to this reader. I had bought his book The Chaos Scenario after hearing him on NPR a couple of years ago, and though far different in scope from his novel here, found it to be both fascinating and enlightening. His newest work, Can't Buy Me Like: How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results, is co-authored by Doug Levy and is also not a novel. But the insight provided into the world of media and advertising proves that a good novel is also frequently based on actual fact and life experiences, though the author has said that he can "barely locate Brooklyn on a map."
Bedfellows is a fast-paced read, one with a highly-exaggerated and hilariously developed plot. Author Garfield has peppered this with very funny and quirky characters, each with their own memorable idiosyncrasies. You may need a notepad to keep track of the characters in this 4.5-star tale, subjectively rated, but it's a good read, and certainly entertaining.
The story begins with "Mr. Mattress" - Jack Schiavone - a former advertising executive who took the fall for his previous girlfriend's embezzling activities in anotehr town. He has opened a mattress store in town and is introduced to the neighborhood's protection racket. Soon, however, there are ominous signs that the real bad guys -- Russians -- are scheming to take over the village.
Most of the characters are just plain strange and the book is filled with sardonic, humorous references. While I never laughed out loud (not that kind of funny), there are definately quite a few chuckles. There is also an abundance of foul language, caveat emptor to the more conservative reader. It's a reasonably paced novel that moves along nicely and keeps the smiles coming. It is not particularly deep or thought provoking -- it's pure potato chip and dip entertainment, nothing more and nothing less, and doesn't pretend to be. I enjoyed it.
Mr. Garfield, surely you have another humorous novel brewing in your very talented brain. We await with anticipation of more midnight reader's guffaws.
The only problem I have with "Bedfellows" is that apparently this is Bob Garfield's only book. GET BUSY, YA SLACKER! WRITE WRITE WRITE!