Other Literary Forms

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Bruce Jay Friedman has written several novels, the most commercially and critically successful of which have been Stern (1962, 1988) and A Mother’s Kisses (1964). Among his later novels are The Current Climate (1989) and A Father’s Kisses (1996). His other works include essays in popular periodicals; two major plays, both produced in New York; screenplays; a parody of contemporary self-help manuals; book reviews; and journalistic pieces. In 1995, he published a sequel to The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life (1978), entitled The Slightly Older Guy. His play Have You Spoken to Any Jews Lately? was produced at the American Jewish Theater in New York in 1995.

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Achievements

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Bruce Jay Friedman is an American short-story writer, novelist, playwright, scriptwriter, journalist, and editor who has a talent for examining the ironic and often comic aspects of contemporary Jewish life. He named, and has often been linked to, the black humor tradition arising out of the 1960’s. In this literary movement, writers emphasize the absurdities of existence through irreverent or grotesque humor. Friedman’s central characters are usually middle-class Jews who are alienated from their roots and from mainstream society. They are shallow creatures lost in a fragmented, absurd America, searching for acceptance and strength. Friedman’s work has often been compared to that of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Bernard Malamud. He is less intellectual than the aforementioned—more visceral in his approach. Friedman has achieved critical success in different genres, including the short story, the novel, and drama. Although best known as a novelist, he has also devoted time to adapting material for the screen. Friedman won the prestigious Obie Award for his play Scuba Duba: A Tense Comedy (1968). His The Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman was published in 1996 to excellent reviews.

Bibliography

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Gefen, Pearl Sheffy. “Bear of a Man.” The Jerusalem Post, December 5, 1996, p. 4. A biographical sketch, combined with an interview of Friedman. Friedman talks about the ups and downs of his career, his encounters with Hollywood screenwriters, his relationship to his family, and his reaction to reviewers.

Nilson, Don L. F. “Humorous Contemporary Jewish American Writers: An Overview of the Criticism.” MELUS 21 (Winter, 1996): 71-101. Friedman is one of several authors included in this bibliographic essay. A useful guide to further reading.

Nolan, Tom. “Master of His Universe.” Review of The Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman, by Bruce Jay Friedman. The Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 3, 1996, p. 4. Nolan discusses Friedman’s flair for bizarre comedy, his talent for fantasy, and his focus on the recurring character Harry Towns in several of his stories.

Schulz, Max. Black Humor Fiction of the Sixties: A Pluralistic Definition of Man and His World. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1973. Schulz has made a career of examining black humor writers in general, Friedman in particular. He develops the concept of the emergence of black humor in the 1960’s, defines it, and examines its leading exponents. In a separate chapter on Friedman, his novel Stern is compared and contrasted to Charles Wright’s The Wig (1966).

Schulz, Max. Bruce Jay Friedman. New York: Twayne, 1974. Schulz has emerged as Friedman’s leading essayist and critical admirer. He places Friedman directly into the mainstream of black humor (Friedman actually coined the term), considering him its leading exponent. The author carefully examines Friedman’s wide range of tastes with separate chapters on the various genres. The author predicts a bright future for him. A good introduction to Friedman’s work. Supplemented by a chronology and a select bibliography.

Schulz, Max. Radical Sophistication: Studies in Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1969. Limiting his study to only a handful of Jewish writers, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Normal Mailer, and Leslie Fiedler, Schulz includes a separate chapter on Friedman and compares his handling of the theme of love in Stern to Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker (1961). The chapter is a reprint of a 1968 article in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction.

Seed, David. “Bruce Jay Friedman’s Fiction: Black Humor and After.” Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor 10 (Spring/Summer, 1988): 14-22. A good, brief look at Friedman’s major work and his importance as a writer. Seed points out that Friedman has been sadly overlooked by his critics except for Schulz and that his work deserves greater attention. He believes Friedman is at his best when he turns everyday notions completely upside down through his characters and their bizarre adventures.

Taylor, John. “The Funny Guy’s Book of Life.” New York 22 (October 9, 1989): 46-50. A biographical sketch that comments on Friedman’s success in the 1960’s, his slide from fame, his scriptwriting, and his efforts to make a comeback with fiction in the 1980’s.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. “The Humiliated Hero: Bruce Jay Friedman’s Stern.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 7 (Spring/Summer, 1965): 91-93. Trachtenberg briefly examines Friedman’s Stern, the novel about a Jew named Stern looking for someone to torment him, finding his nemesis in an anti-Semitic neighbor. The author praises the book and considers it significant. He notes that Friedman can vividly bring out the laughter behind the grotesque horror.

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Critical Essays