Woody Allen on his written work: “If it’s succesful, the laughs don’t come from jokes, they come from characters in emotionally desperate circumstances.”

So this was a great story. I read it with delight, not thinking about theme or point of view or any of that malarky, but just eating it up and enjoying Allen’s humor and pacing. It’s a great idea, and as the intro states, is a worthy successor to James Thurber’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’.

Kugelmass, unhappily married, decides to seek the help from a magician when his analyst fails to provide him with an overnight cure. He gets a call from a magician called Persky who shows him a cabinet that will transport him into the pages of which ever novel he wishes to enter. Kugelmass opts for Madame Bovary, and begins to pursue a romance with the unhappy heroine. And, well. Hilarity ensues.

Why was this story good? Snappy dialogue, great pacing, a strong idea, and an inability of the protagonist to wrest happiness for himself even when dealing with fictional works. Allen is correct – the humor arises from Kugelmass’s desperation as much as from the quips and humorous developments.

Most of the short story is dialogue, but Allen still manages to evoke some sharp imagery with well chosen words. “Daphne Kugelmass was an oaf,’ he states. Or, “Kugelmass was bald and as hairy as a bear, but he had soul.” Such short, direct lines work – you instantly get a feel for the character without Allen having to belabor height, physique, clothing, etc. As much is revealed about the characters through their own words as is via descriptions. Actually, much more.

What is this story about? Is there a theme? Or is it just a good yarn? I have to sort of squint my eyes and look at the wall as I think about this one. The story is about… how certain people just have awful luck. Or… the world has a way of making sure certain people can’t… no. Hmm. I think this is a case of a good, energetic story that entertains and doesn’t sermonize. It’s fun; you read it quickly, you chuckle and enjoy it tremendously, and set it down shaking your head, feeling amused and sorry for Kugelmass both, but that’s all.

In a way, this feels like the diametric opposite of Achebe’s story. However, the critic Sanford Pinsker says, “This story reveals as much about our cultural moment as Thurber’s did about his.” The Kugelmass Episode was written in the late 70’s – I wonder what was revealed by the story. Having watched lots of Woody Allen movies, I feel as if this story belongs to an almost timeless Woody Allen universe of zany, unfortunate New York Jews running around New York unhappily trying to find love. Perhaps if I knew more about 1970’s NYC I would be able to spot the revelations, but unfortunately I don’t know much, and thus can’t.

But still, a fun romp! A rollicking tale, a… a gallumphing read! Witty, sharp, surprising. Kugelmass displays a particular nature that it’s easy to sympathize with: a desire to not confront your problems, but ameliorate them with distractions. He takes an unattractive, awkward, and confused person and makes you sympathize with them due of their bad luck and laughably poor choices.

Achebe, Adams, Agueros, and Allen. Next comes Isabel Allende.