Sharp, dry humour penetrates every word and line of this subtle, cosy comedy. Not big on storyline or drama, this is rather witty monologue and dialogue, telling the life story of a group of elderly men and women who have been friends since childhood and – for two of them in particular – share their experiences and musings of life over countless cups of coffee, in some of the Big Apple’s finest coffee shops and delis. The comic banter bounces back and forth without respite, while Ray and Teddy resemble a talking heads duo comic act, relentlessly sparring. Overall, the humour brings to mind that of the New York Jewish comedy circuit.
There are two separate and differently styled narratives, interweaving the past and the present - at least for the first half of the book. After midway, it spends a lot more of its time developing events in the present day. The progressing backstory is told in some ways like a monologue, whilst Ray and Teddy’s present-day is narrated almost entirely in dialogue, reading like a screenplay for much of it. Whilst this quickfire rally of quips does become a little tiresome and starts to wear thin later on, it is undeniably very clever the way that Bresler makes the two time periods intertwine and overlap.
The two men discuss apparently everything in depth, without awkwardness or animosity, and have done for seven decades. This easy-going comfort zone looks set to shift, however, when one of them starts dating the other’s fickle former flame – though Teddy claims not to take issue, there is perhaps an unresolved sense of mystery and bitterness about his past relationship, which never really went away. Other than this, the storyline feels a touch flimsy, and takes a long time to develop; I wasn’t really sure, either, why a Hollywood producer would pick this unextraordinary group of pensioners as the topic of his new movie. It actually improves later, becoming more melodramatic, as the women take a more central role, and enough to make me wonder why they weren’t so prominent from earlier on.
Joel Bresler is a talented writer, with wonderful detail
and sharply scripted prose. In many ways,
this book deserved far more than the star rating I have given it, but my only
complaint of substance is one which I think has had quite a profound effect on
the book generally: I felt that it was quite severely harmed by a lack of
chapters or any other natural narrative breaks, the effect of which is to compound
the relentless feeling of monologue, and draw it out over the 200-odd
pages. I do like to see chapters as
natural checkpoints, and perhaps this fact does also confuse the timeline a tiny
bit, at points, when the past and present are interwoven. But, Bottomless Cups is an otherwise extremely
well-written book, packed full of well-worked dialogue and sharp comedy; definitely
worth a read for fans of the genre.
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In : Book Reviews
Tags: joel-bresler comedy jewish drama new-york