This has been on my shelf for years now, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. I love Woody Allen’s humour, but sometimes I need a little push to pick up short story and essay collections. Thankfully this was on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year.
This is a very random book. There are essays, two single-act plays, excerpts from fictional journals, and alternative histories. You never know what you’re going to get as you start each piece, which makes for an exciting read. Even the title, a take on Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”, is fantastic.
This begins with Selections from the Allen Notebooks, paragraph chunks of random thoughts, story ideas, and ‘journal’ entries. It’s a hilarious and quick way to start the book and get the reader engaged.
Thought: Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.
The Whore of Mensa is a story of a private investigator hired by a man being blackmailed by an agency, one which provides men who feel intellectually unsatisfied at home a partner for discrete discussion.
I mean, my wife is great, don’t get me wrong. But she won’t discuss Pound with me. Or Eliot. I didn’t know that when I married her. See, I need a woman who’s mentally stimulating, Kaiser. And I’m willing to pay for it. I don’t want an involvement—I want a quick intellectual experience, then I want the girl to leave. Christ, Kaiser, I’m a happily married man.
The plays were both brilliant too, I thought. The first, Death (A Play), has a man woken in the middle of the night by a group of neighbours to track down a serial killer. The second, God (A Play), is a completely ridiculous and meta tale of two ancient Greeks, Hepatitis (the writer) and Diabetes (an actor), who are trying to come up with an ending for their play within a play. Actors are in the audience, Woody Allen himself appears briefly, and they continually break the fourth wall to discuss how they’re fictional. It goes all over the place and was a blast.
Unfortunately, my edition was missing twenty pages and duplicated another twenty to make up for it, so the beginning of the play was cut off. This was especially confusing, as the end of the play had this exchange:
DIABETES: Unsatisfying!? It’s not even believable. (The lights start dimming) The trick is to start at the ending when you write a play. Get a good, strong ending, and then write backwards.
HEPATITIS: I’ve tried that. I got a play with no beginning.
For a moment, I thought the printing error was maybe on purpose, but after a quick Google I see it was not. The play is also much better, unsurprisingly, if you start at the beginning, but I still loved it.
Another favourite was If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists, which were letters from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, as they would read if all of the impressionist painters had been dentists instead. He shares an office with Paul Gauguin and bitches about his patients.
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding. Mrs Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth. That’s right! I can’t work to order like a common tradesman. I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing and wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset because it won’t fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her. I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star burst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful.
I loved this book, and I can’t believe I waited this long to read it. I noticed that his other books are on Audible, and he narrates them himself, so I’m torn between grabbing those and finding the physical copies. I love comedians delivering their own material, especially someone like Woody Allen, but I also loved being able to stop and re-read sections of this as I went. I’m leaning towards the physical copies right now.
If you’re a fan of Woody Allen, this is definitely worth picking up. I was laughing out loud at parts, and I’m quite excited to get to his other books now.