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A Horse Walks into a Bar Paperback – July 15, 2017
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This story reflects our human life in a comic and subtle way and holds a mirror in many different ways. Narration was simply great and reader feels he is part of crowd and Netanya. It leaves a breeze and scar inside you due to character --By Swaminathan on 23 July 2017
About the Author
David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into more than forty languages.
Joe Barrett has been a working stage, screen, and recording booth actor since 1974 and an award-winning and eight-time Audie Award-nominated audiobook narrator since 1999. He also practiced law for five years-but don't hold that against him. Joe is married to actress Andrea Wright, and together they have four children.
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The story or standup routine is a novella, fewer than 200 pages but packed with pain and sorrow. It reads as a continuous monologue with narrative interruptions by the childhood friend and others. The method brilliantly captures the atmosphere of a comedy club and the exhaustion a comic would feel as he bares his soul and tears down the props of propriety exposing repressed or painful memories. The interspersed narration anchors the story as a novella. The whole experience is rather like watching a train wreck. It seems indecent to keep staring--you want to look away but can't.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar is that riveting.
Greenstein goes off on his personal narrative right from the start, and I was left wondering what his usual act was like, if he even had one, if he had planned the strange performance, and even whether he actually was a successful comedian. Grossman answers none of these questions, and says nothing about the period in Greenstein's life between late adolescence and this performance nearly 40 years later. I have no idea how Greenstein got to that stage.
It is implied that this is intentionally an unusual performance, because Greenstein has invited one childhood friend who he has not seen since then, contacting him out of the blue to ask him to attend and later offer an assessment -- not of the show, but of Greenstein himself. It's an odd plot device, and it does not really work. The acquaintance, Avishai Lazar, is a former judge who was forced to step down for being too tough -- which is interesting, but not explored. There is a bit about Lazar's life and the loss of his wife, but it's approached elliptically and again, much is left unexplained.
What kept me going was the belief that all of this must be leading up to something. It's not. Dov G's lengthy set runs out of steam, the audience leaves, the show ends. Nothing is resolved. Perhaps that's Grossman's point, but it does not make for a satisfying reading experience.
Dovelah Greenstein is a stand-up comedian facing an existential crisis and he chooses a one-night engagement for a kind of self-immolation. Reaching out into his distant past, he chooses a childhood neighbor named Avishai Lazar – a district court justice and a grieving widower --to provide feedback about what he sees.
The power of this novel is that the reader—like the audience—is placed in the position of witness, unable to turn away yet increasingly unsettled about the lengths to which Dov is inflicting pain upon himself.
This is a confident author, unafraid to take risks with his character, and these risks reap ample rewards. As the audience clamors for easy laughs, and as more and more make their way to the exit (Dov actually tallies the disgruntled guests on a stage chalkboard), the stakes keep raising for the audience members who remain. Dov, a one-time scrawny kid who learned to use humor as a shield against his abusive father and neighborhood bullies—is a man who is in genuine pain and is seeking a type of self-forgiveness.
As an added reward, David Grossman knows the complex rhythm of stand-up comedy—reading the audience, giving it what it wants, and yet consistently forcing the audience from its collective comfort zone. There is an urgency to this story and the reader begins to feel complicit—wanting to reach out and provide comfort while, at the same time, furtively looks behind for a way out.
I thought this book was mesmerizing and extraordinarily powerful. It certainly deserves the Man Booker prize it earned and it will certainly be in my Top Ten this year.