Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review : Daniel Friedman - Don't Ever Get Old (2012)


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What Eisenhower told me was, when you have nothing else to hang on to, you hang on to your gun.

I have this rule that when somebody dies at 80 years old or older, it's selfish to cry. So many people die young, a long life must be cause for celebration. It's a stupid rule, because it must suck to be that old: you witness your body gradually breaking down, people you share the most with are dying around you and the people who will survive you just want to stash you in a dying parlor and forget you exist. Daniel Friedman wrote a novel about an 87 years old alpha male cop. It's also a mystery that features nazis, a hidden treasure and cultural studies interludes. DON'T EVER GET OLD is a lot of fun, yet it's not a shallow novel. It's quite unique and highly enjoyable if you have a soft spot for senior citizens like I do.

Baruch ''Buck'' Schatz had a long and exciting life. He survived the P.O.W camps in WWII, was a gun-toting star detective on the Memphis police force and now, he's 87 years old and looking to take it easy with his wife Rose for the little time he has left in this world. When Rose forces him to go see his long time friend Jim Wallace on his death bed, the man throws Buck a curve ball before shuffling off the coil: his WWII torturer Heinrich Ziegler is alive. He saw Ziegler after he was declared dead and accepted a gold bribe to let him get away. Buck tried for years to settle his business with Ziegler but abandonned when he was declared dead. Now he's alive and there is nazi gold. There are also several greedy bastards on the trail and a grandson with a taste for adventure. Buck will have to let go of the quiet vulnerability of elderly age for some time.

I know what you're thinking. Let me reassure you, DON'T EVER GET OLD is not a gimmick. It's not trying to sell itself based on its protagonist's old age alone. It's awesome that Buck Schatz is a badass senior citizen and everything, but the range of issues Daniel Friedman inflicts on his character truly gives the novel a sense of purpose. Take the character of Norris Feely, for example, which I love because he is so unredeemably crooked. Feely exemplifies the current state of elderly abuse in our society. He is an emotional, self-centered monster that dismisses anything human about Buck based on his old age. He's infuriatingly well-written. Buck's grandson Billy also takes unnecessary swipes at his grandfather based on the fact he's not going to suffer any consequences alone. So yes, it's funny and liberating to have a badass elderly protagonist, but Daniel Friedman keeps it real in DON'T EVER GET OLD and puts Buck Schatz through the same ordeals every normal senior citizens has to put up with. That makes the badassery all the more special and purposeful.

He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead, striking a mournful pose he must have thought exhibited his boundless oceans of regret. In their minds, people's boring, puerile problems always take on Shakespearean proportions. This degenerate had no self-control; oldest story in the world. I didn't need to hear it again.

Another clever detail that makes DON'T EVER GET OLD a special novel is its self-awareness. Daniel Friedman sends occasional winks to his readers, sometimes through Buck's quips of wisdom and sometimes through a cultural studies television show Buck is watching. It's always smoothly integrated to the narrative and provides a level of unpredictability you don't find everywhere. Whether Buck just knows a characters if manipulating him through experience * or the television show is discussing our cultural fascination with nazis, I've never seen a novel fully acknolwedge clich├ęs like this. Such reckless honesty would've been a train wreck in the hands of so many, yet Daniel Friedman never loses control. Whenever he swerves away from the easy path, he finds a new way to what he's trying to deliver. That was as exhilarating as Buck Schatz's badass antics to me. 

I love it when a novel sucker punches me like this. Daniel Friedman is uniquely talented. He is an author with his own voice and with a resourcefulness that will surprise you. There is a second Buck Schatz novel that was published last week, named DON'T EVER LOOK BACK. Normally, I'd be frowning at the idea of a senior citizen protagonist getting a sequel, but Daniel Friedman earned my trust with DON'T EVER GET OLD. Whatever he'll write from now on, I'll read. He's a ''can't-miss'' talent, if you allow me the sports nerd analogy. DON'T EVER GET OLD is way more than a senior citizen mystery. It's a novel with a treasure of perspective on its own genre and a serious literary treatment of the elderly. Here is your chance to hop on the bandwagon before the movie comes out.

BADASS

* There is a spectacular phone conversation with Buck, Billy and an Israeli nazi hunter that's one of the high points of DON'T EVER GET OLD

2 comments:

  1. Oh yeah, certainly a good book. But the series is limited: with every new book Buck will get older, and you can't have a 100-year old running like he's 25.

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  2. Oh, I agree. He's not exactly running through this one though.

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