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Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories Paperback – June 1, 2004
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Subtitled THE BRICKMAN STORIES, Nadelson's book might be found shelved with short story collections, and, while it's true there are eight distinct stories here, taken together they tell the story of one family, i.e. the Brickmans of northern New Jersey. The central character of these interrelated stories is Daniel Brickman, the second son of Arthur and Hannah (Collins, changed from Kollechelnik) Brickman. Daniel's story is the most complete, presenting him, in non-chronological order, from boyhood and adolescence ("Mr. Mervin", "With Equals Alone" and "Saving Stanley") into struggling adulthood ("Young Radicals" and "Kosher"). Son Jared, four years older than Daniel, gets his own story in "Anything You Need." Mother Hannah takes center stage in "Saving Stanley" but also figures prominently in "Hannah of Troy." Father Arthur, a scientist, is the featured player in "Why Not?". Even Daniel's Russian Jewish immigrant grandfather, Murray Collins, gets a part (in "Young Radicals"). In the end, though, all of these perfectly realized stories blend seamlessly together to give you the story of an upper middle-class New Jersey family, all of them just doing the best that they can. Daniel and Jared both go through the usual teenage rebellions, thinking they HATE their parents and will NEVER be like them. The usual locked doors, rages and tantrums. In the meantime you get an inside look at the parents' lives too, both in the present, and when they were young, newly married and struggling to keep it all together in the tumult of the sixties.
And Daniel, older, finally comes to better understand his parents. One of the most poignant and moving passages in the book comes in a scene where Daniel, about to be married, visits his parents, listens to a never-told story from his mother, and watches the two of them, now both sixty-ish, interacting together - "... and I glanced from one to the other, nearly choking with envy."
Scott Nadelson, probably because he is Jewish and from New Jersey, has been likened to a young Philip Roth. Well, maybe. He's got the skills, the writing chops. But the bitterness and the anger often found in Roth are missing. There's something else, something much warmer in SAVING STANLEY than I ever found in Roth. I think it's an innate respect for family, a recognition of the importance of family. I just LIKED Daniel Brickman a lot more than I ever did Alex Portnoy or Nathan Zuckerman, you know? Daniel is only somewhere in his twenties when this book ends. He's made his share of mistakes, has some regrets. His future remains uncertain. But I think he'll be okay. Yeah, I do.
I think I already said this once, but this is simply a damn fine book. I enjoyed it immensely and will recommend it highly.
P.S. Oh yeah, in case you're wondering - and this is not a a spoiler - Stanley is the family cat.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER