Edwin Newman Joe Flaherty - Essay

Joe Flaherty

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Edwin Newman's first novel, "Sunday Punch," is a sad example of a man mesmerized by his inner music. The novel is ostensibly the story of an English middleweight named Aubrey Philpott-Grimes and his travails in America as he pursues the championship. The premise has promise.

Nathanael West mined it well when he sent Lemuel Pitkin out to conquer America in "A Cool Million." The difference is that West used inspired madness, while Mr. Newman settles for smug pedantry.

Early on, Mr. Newman lets us know that the target for his Sunday Punch is not the novel's plot line, but sundry targets: editorial writers, airline menus, luxury apartments, sportswriters, Washington political and social life, and any other gnat that has landed on the estimable Newman brow across the years….

But in his pursuit of cuffing around the booberies of our tongue (very little of it clever), Mr. Newman ignores Edmund Wilson's esthetic canon for the novel—a farrago is fine, if it lives.

Mr. Newman's novel doesn't live, because all his characters are cartoon characters….

[If it hadn't been for Newman's celebrity status] he probably would not have gotten a chance to unload his "Sunday Punch."

Joe Flaherty, "Many Funny Names," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 15, 1979, p. 13.