Picks and Pans Review: Barney's Version
Few things in life give 67-year-old TV producer Barney Panofsky more pleasure than single-malt scotch, Monte Cristo cigars and his beloved Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Add wickedly vengeful pranks to the list and you've made a good start toward understanding the lead character in Mordecai Richler's 10th novel.
Pricked by a malicious biographer's threat to unmask him as a "wife-beater, an intellectual fraud, a purveyor of pap, a drunk with a penchant for violence and probably a murderer," Panofsky launches a preemptive strike by writing his memoirs. His comic account wends through his halcyon days in '50s Paris and three failed marriages before taking up his role in the mysterious drowning of his best friend, an obscure literary genius named Boogie Moscovitch. Inconveniently, a failing memory trips Barney up and the story careens from clever riposte to maudlin confession.
Ultimately, whether Panofsky killed Moscovitch matters little to the reader. Barney's devotion to his ex-wife Miriam transforms this novel from a whodunit to a touching tale of love lost. He may have lived a wasted life and learned to regret his dirty tricks, but thanks to Richler's hilarious and piercingly sympathetic storytelling, Barney becomes too heartbreakingly human for us to sit in judgment. (Knopf, $25)
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