Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bowl Of Cherries by Millard Kaufman

I’ve been curious about Millard Kaufman’s Bowl of Cherries since it was released. Kaufman penned the brilliant Bad Day At Black Rock, a movie whose language still sizzles. Catch it on TCM one of these nights and you’ll hang on every word. I had the good fortune of meeting Kaufman 10 years back. I booked him for a speaking gig at The Film Arts Foundation when I worked there. He was sharp, affable, and a delightful old guy. Bowl of Cherries is a beautifully packaged book courtesy of the McSweenys people. I grabbed it out of the library a couple weeks back and dug in.

The language is beautiful. It’s funny, clever, and playful. Kaufman has a wonderful way with words. His love of the English language and the written word is evident. Stylistically it was an interesting throwback to the kind of work I devoured during the college years. It’s steeped in the type of satire and world-view exhibited by the likes of Barthes, Pynchon, Vonnegut, Robbins, and Heller. Bowl of Cherries is inhabited by a world of thinkers, philosophers, and academics embracing life, puzzled by life, and trying to find answers in life. Like the works of those listed above, wackiness and whimsy are on full display. Strange circumstances get us from the Deep South to Yale to rural Colorado and then to prison in Iraq.

Unfortunately though, I can’t say I loved the book. Sadly, I was disinterested. The story itself was ultimately not that compelling. Broad and satirical, yet the satire never fully landed. Hundreds of pages in I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going, or what the book was even about. All told, Bowl of Cherries was an odd read that was pleasurable from word-to-word, from sentence-to-sentence, but unfulfilling from pillar-to-post.


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