The Klone and I

string of golden paper dolls; heart is dot on the I in the titleIt’s possible that I’m reading The Klone and I all wrong, but I prefer to think Danielle Steel decided she couldn’t write another syrupy romance and decided to spoof the whole business. At any rate, her Klone is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time.

The story is related by a woman named Stephanie whose husband tells her in the 13th year of their marriage that he wants out.  She gets the kids, ages eight and 13. Roger gets alimony and quickly remarries.

Stephanie meets a lot of losers before she meets Peter Baker, an attractive divorce who runs a bionics company. Bionics is not a term Stephanie recognizes.

They slip into a relationship, though Stephanie’s kids think Peter is dull.

When Peter has to go to California on business, he promises her a surprise. The surprise is Paul Klone, a partially-cloned, partially bionic figure—read that as  life-size sex doll—that looks exactly like Peter, only much, much flashier.

Stephanie’s kids think Paul is great.

And Steel gives him great lines like, “I love you Steph . . . you make my wires hurt,” and his whine, “In a few hours, I’ll have my head off again, and all my wires hanging out, and you’ll be back with [Peter].”

The Klone and I: A High-Tech Love Story
by Danielle Steel
Delacorte ©1998. 231 p.
1998 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories

people and animals from fairy tales drinking together around a table
Get a load of those 3 porkers.

James Finn Garner rewrote 13 classic fairy tales to replace any language that would offend the sensibilities of “Politically Correct” 1990s readers with language that will make ordinary folks laugh out loud.

Thus in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:

    • Little Red Riding Hood becomes “a young person.”
    • The Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not naked but merely “endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle.”
    • The Little in Chicken Little’s name is a family name rather than a “size-based nickname,” and
    • Cinderella is put on the road to romance by an individual calling himself her “fairy godperson, or individual deity proxy.”

Garner’s long-distance nod to the historic origins of the tales is marked by a decorative capital letter, drawn by Lisa Amoroso to illustrate the story, and placed as the first letter of each story in the best tradition of early manuscripts.

Despite its extremely short length—79 pages—Politically Correct Bedtime Stories is not a work to be read in one sitting. To appreciate Garner’s humor, without being overwhelmed by the silliness, it’s best to read the stories one a night for 13 nights before bedtime.

Garner’s book was a flash-in-a-pan bestseller, ideally suited to the time in which it first appeared, but almost lusterless today when people seem unable to laugh at absurdities uttered by public figures.

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:
Modern Tales for Our Life & Times
by James Finn Garner
Viking. ©1994. 79 p.
1994 bestseller #6; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

Roadside sign says houses in distance are Lake WobegonLeaving Home is a collection of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion monologues about Lake Wobegon, the little town on the edge of the Minnesota prairie “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Leaving Home doesn’t make any attempt at a plot. It’s simply a collection of literary oddments.

The chapters are short, usually three to five pages, often funny, and vibrating with the ring of oral stories about small town people from mid-century mid-America.

People who grew up in any rural community in America after World War II will recognize the traits that Keillor alternately mocks and lauds.

These are church-going people, with or without personal faith, but with a strong commitment to what their church represents.

They aren’t rich or famous. Some are comfortable, others not so much.

All of them wonder what the world is coming to.

The book will bring joy to fans of Keillor’s down-home style of yarn-spinning.

Leaving Home should also have a strong attraction for depressed 21st century readers wondering what the world is coming to, and yearning for models of how to live among those with whom you disagree without being disagreeable.

Leaving Home: A Collection of
Lake Wobegon Stories
by Garrison Keillor
Viking. ©1987. 244 p.
1987 bestseller #5; my grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz

Heidi copies famous Marilyn photo holding down her skirts
Heidi isn’t Marilyn.

All you need to know about Joan River’s novel The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz is that it is by Joan Rivers.

The book is 99 pages of one-liners about sex and syphilis designed to titillate a night club audience that’s already imbibed too much to survive a breathalyzer test.

Rivers doesn’t even attempt to create a plot.

The front cover cartoon of Heidi standing on a grating with the skirt of her dress blowing up around her thighs suggests Marilyn Monroe.

The cartoon on the back of the dusk jacket showing Heidi pulling her dress off doesn’t suggest anything. It’s a statement: Heidi is a whore.

James Sherman’s pen-and-ink humorous illustrations are the best part of the book. He captures the incidents Rivers relates without the tawdry nastiness that is Rivers’ stock in trade.

Heidi as a kindergartener
Heidi was the center of her own world from preschool.

While displaying Heidi’s physical assets, Sherman makes Heidi’s eyes reveal her mental deficits. Without his work, the book would be total trash.

It says something about American taste that this un-funny abomination outsold Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in 1984.

The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz
by Joan Rivers
Illustrations by James Sherman
Delacourt Press. 1984. [Book Club ed.] 99 p.
1984 bestseller #9. My grade: D-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Hotel New Hampshire: A family love story

Some novels create a fantasy world. John Irving’s novel The Hotel New Hampshire realistically depicts a family who live in one.

Dust jacket has light gray and white text on burgundy background, no art
No image could capture this novel.

John Berry, the third of Winslow and Mary Berry’s five children, tells the story.

Win and Mary grew up in Dairy, NH, but didn’t meet until both worked summer jobs in Maine after high school.

The Berry children’s favorite story was of their parent’s romance, 1939 marriage, and Win’s purchase of a bear, with which he paid for his Harvard education before coming back to Dairy.

When the private boy’s school at which Win teaches has to take girls, Win decides to buy the former girls’ school and turn it into a tourist destination the first Hotel New Hampshire.

He moves his family and their dog into the hotel.

It’s hardly an ideal place for children or dogs.

There will be two more Hotel New Hampshires, one in Vienna, Austria, the other at the hotel site where Win and Mary met.

Only the third one, the one that is a hotel in name only, is a success.

Irving reproduces the sibling interactions with perfect pitch. Their antics are laugh out loud funny at one minute and bring tears the next.

Visit The Hotel New Hampshire. You’ll be glad you did.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
E. P. Dutton. © 1981.  401 p.
1981 bestseller #2. My grade A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Slapstick: or, Lonesome no more!

As he did in Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut begins Slapstick: or Lonesome No More with a personal reference.

A clown with SLAPSTICK written where his lips should be is on novel's cover
Slapstick’s clownish dust jacket cover hides a serious message.

Vonnegut tells of flying with his brother to their uncle’s funeral and missing their sister who died from cancer two days after her husband died in a accident, leaving four children to be brought up by family members.

That, and seeing a performance of Tosca, starts him imagining a novel in the spirit of Laurel and Hardy who “did their best with every test.”

Slapstick is a series of loosely connected episodes about Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, M.D., age 100, currently one of three inhabitants of the Empire State Building (most other residents of Manhattan have been killed by plague) and former president of the United States.

Swain won the Presidency with the slogan “Lonesome No More” and instituted a program in which Americans were assigned to families identifiable by middle names consisting of a noun and a number.

Vonnegut’s absurd characters are no more real than a Laurel and Hardy sketch, but realism is not his point.

His characters are parables, zany to get your attention and direct it to a message:

“Human beings need all the relatives they can get—as possible donors or receivers not necessarily of love, but of common decency.”

Slapstick: or, Lonesome no more!
By Kurt Vonnegut. ©1976. 243 p.
Delacorte Press/S.Lawrence
1976 bestseller #7. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Semi-Tough: Thoroughly sixth grader humor

Three facts about Dan Jenkins’s 1972 bestseller Semi-Tough tell all you really need to know:

Football star sits with his girl, a beer, and his guitar.
This is how the Giants get ready for the Super Bowl.
  • The novel is about two teams facing off in the Super Bowl.
  • The author was a senior editor at Sports Illustrated at the time he wrote the novel.
  • A portion of the novel appeared in Playboy magazine prior to the book’s publication.

Semi-Tough‘s narrator is Billy Clyde Puckett, a running back (and running mouth) for the New York Giants.

His best pals are his teammate “Shake” Tiller and Shake’s girlfriend, model Barbara Jane Bookman. The three spent their childhood in the same Texas town. It would be incorrect to say they grew up there or anywhere else.

Billy Clyde has a book contract to keep a journal of events before and after the Super Bowl. That’s why he’s taking notes about players drinking and screwing in preparation for the Big Game.

Football fans say Semi-Tough is funny; personally, I’m just not that in to jokes about farting.

I did laugh at Shake’s philosophical observation, “There’s no heartbreak in life like losing the big game in high school,” but I don’t think he meant it to be funny.

Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins
Atheneum, 1972. 307 p.
1972 bestseller #10 My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Travels with My Aunt pleasantly diverting

Travels with My Aunt is a novel I’d hate to part with. It’s undemanding, pleasant, and quite forgettable once it’s back on the shelf.

It is, in fact, rather like Henry Pulling the retired bank manager who is the nephew alluded to in the title of Graham Greene’s novel.

All-text cover of Travels with My Aunt
My copy of Travels with My Aunt

Henry’s unvarying routine of tending to his dahlias and telephoning to Chicken for his meals, was agreeably disrupted by his mother’s funeral.

Henry’s Aunt Augusta, whom he’d not seen in over 50 years attended the funeral. She tells Henry bits of family history he’d never known, and hints at more he would prefer not to know.

He quickly finds himself sucked into a world of eccentrics and crooks to whom wouldn’t have given even a secured loan in his banking days.

Being a gentleman and a nephew, Henry feels he ought to accompany his aunt when she travels abroad. Travel scares and exhilarates Henry. It’s certainly more interesting than growing dahlias.

Greene paints vivid pictures of his characters. In his pen, even bland Henry breathes. His gradual release of respectability in favor of adventure is believable.

There’s no great moral here. Just a pleasant reminder that growing old does not need to mean growing bored.

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
Viking Press, 1970. The Collected Edition, 319 p.
1970 bestseller #9. My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is a comic novel about unfunny topics, such as murder, written by an angry man.

Dust jacket of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot StraightAuthor Jimmy Breslin, a brash New York Daily News columnist, invents a gang war between a Mafia don “Papa Baccala” and malcontents who want to get a bigger share of the proceeds: 100 percent is the figure they have in mind.

Instead of liquidating his opposition, Baccala decides to keep them quiet by letting them organize a six-day bike race and keep most of the money.

The opposition, led by Kid Sally Palumbo (Palumbo rhymes with Dumbo, get it?) are total incompetents.

Breslin makes fun of the incompetent crooks he invented, but beneath the sometimes ribald humor is a deep anger against competent political crooks and the intertwined police and justice systems that work against the innocent.

The film rights to Gang were sold before the book came out, which probably accounts for the novel’s sales: The novel is mostly a series of theatrical sight gags, funnier seen than read about.

The novel’s lasting contribution is undoubtedly its title: Referring to an organization as “a gang that can’t shoot straight” has become shorthand for systemic incompetence.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin
Viking Press, ©1969. 249 p.
1970 bestseller #7. My grade: C-

Reviewer’s note: Breslin died March 19, 2017.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Daughter of Anderson Crow told in illustrations

If you want to know why The Daughter of Anderson Crow was a bestseller, look at B. Martin Justice’s illustrations.

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If you want to know what’s wrong with the novel, look at Justice’s illustrations.


The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon
B. Martin Justice, illus. Dodd, Mead 1907. 1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #14818. My Grade: B-.

George Barr McCutcheon’s starts out writing a funny novel about Anderson Crow, Tinkletown marshal, fire chief, and street commissioner who is just smart enough to not let Tinkletown see how dumb he is.

That first part of the novel is illustrated with cartoonish line drawings as funny as McCutcheon’s text.

The second part of the story is about Rosalie Gray, who the Crows raised like a daughter after finding her in a basket on their doorstep one winter night.

Her parentage was a mystery that even self-proclaimed super-sleuth Anderson Crow couldn’t solve.

A note in the basket said the Crows would receive $1000 a year to raise the child.

No one around Tinkletown had that kind of money.

The illustrations for Rosalie’s life as a young woman are lush scenes, suited to the Gothic romance style McCutcheon adopts whenever he focuses on her.

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Eventually McCutcheon gets Rosalie suitably married, and turns his attention back to Anderson Crow long enough to give readers one final laugh before the novel ends.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni