josh's mum has died, and he
doesn't know what to do with himself, so he moves in with his dad.
Lenny Bruce Is Dead weaves together small episodes from Josh's sad new life with recollections of his childhood and horny teen years. It's a slim but memorable ode to memory, loss and recovery.
Whip-smart author Jonathan Goldstein, a refugee from Montreal's zine scene, currently produces National Public Radio's This American Life in Chicago.
He has a brazen, frank style, especially when he's recounting his sexual adventures, but he also knows which details matter -- the rasp of a customer's voice when he demands a hard-boiled egg at the Burger Zoo where Josh works, the particular dishes in the Chinese buffets that he and his father hoover down during those rare moments when they connect.
He also knows how to make the most out of ordinary things, like the childhood fear that at McDonald's he'll unload his wallet into the trash along with the garbage on his tray. Or the way boyhood friends try to top each other in the gross-out department.
Goldstein is the spawn of Roth and Richler -- obsessed with girls, uneasy about his Jewishness. And some memorable characters spin out of these preoccupations, including the rebbe who holds special seminars on the coming of the messiah while promoting a special love lotion on the side, and Josh's various ex-girlfriends, especially the traitorous Kay.
I'm not saying Goldstein's got huge potential for literary greatness. This is a small, funny book that's obviously come out of real, once-in-a-lifetime grief.
But even if lightning strikes only this once, it's a decent jolt.
LENNY BRUCE IS DEAD by Jonathan Goldstein (Coach House), 160 pages. $17.95 paper. Rating: NNN