David Grossman: A Horse Walks Into a Bar

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David Grossman A Horse Walks Into a Bar
  • Название:
    A Horse Walks Into a Bar
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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    Проза / на английском языке
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A Horse Walks Into a Bar: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The award-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the To the End of the Land now gives us a searing short novel about the life of a stand-up comic, as revealed in the course of one evening's performance. In the dance between comic and audience, with barbs flying back and forth, a deeper story begins to take shape one that will alter the lives of many of those in attendance. — In a little dive in a small Israeli city, Dov Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his prime, is doing a night of stand-up. In the audience is a district court justice, Avishai Lazar, whom Dov knew as a boy, along with a few others who remember Dov as an awkward, scrawny kid who walked on his hands to confound the neighborhood bullies. Gradually, as it teeters between hilarity and hysteria, Dov's patter becomes a kind of memoir, taking us back into the terrors of his childhood: we meet his beautiful flower of a mother, a Holocaust survivor in need of constant monitoring, and his punishing father, a striver who had little understanding of his creative son. Finally, recalling his week at a military camp for youth where Lazar witnessed what would become the central event of Dov's childhood Dov describes the indescribable while Lazar wrestles with his own part in the comedian's story of loss and survival. Continuing his investigations into how people confront life's capricious battering, and how art may blossom from it, Grossman delivers a stunning performance in this memorable one-night engagement (jokes in questionable taste included).

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A Horse Walks into a Bar

“GOOD EVENING! GOOD EVENING! Good evening to the majestic city of Ceasariyaaaaaah!”

The stage is empty. The thundering shout echoes from the wings. The audience slowly quiets down and grins expectantly. A short, slight, bespectacled man lurches onto the stage from a side door as if he’d been kicked through it. He takes a few faltering steps, trips, brakes himself on the wood floor with both hands, then sharply juts his rear end straight up. Scattered laughter and applause from the audience. People are still filing into the club, chatting loudly. “Ladies and gentlemen!” announces a tight-lipped man standing at the lighting console. “Put your hands together for Dovaleh G!” The man onstage still crouches like a monkey, his big glasses askew on his nose. He slowly turns to face the room and scans it with a long, unblinking look.

“Oh, wait a minute,” he grumbles, “this isn’t Caesarea, is it?” Sounds of laughter. He slowly straightens up and dusts his hands off. “Looks like my agent fucked me again.” A few audience members call out, and he stares at them in horror: “Say what? Come again? You, table seven, yeah, with the new lips—they look great, by the way.” The woman giggles and covers her mouth with one hand. The performer stands at the edge of the stage, swaying back and forth slightly. “Get serious now, honey, did you really say Netanya?” His eyes widen, almost filling the lenses of his glasses: “Let me get this straight. Are you going to sit there and declare, so help you God, that I am actually for real in Netanya at this very minute, and I’m not even wearing a flak jacket?” He crosses his hands over his crotch in terror. The crowd roars with joy. A few people whistle. Some more couples amble in, followed by a rowdy group of young men who look like soldiers on furlough. The small club fills up. Acquaintances wave to one another. Three waitresses in short shorts and neon-purple tank tops emerge from the kitchen and scatter among the tables.

“Listen, Lips”—he smiles at the woman at table seven—“we’re not done yet. Let’s talk about it. I mean, you look like a pretty serious young lady, I gotta say, and you certainly have an original fashion sense, if I’m correctly reading the fascinating hairdo that must have been done by—let me guess: the designer who gave us the Temple Mount mosque and the nuclear reactor in Dimona?” Laughter in the audience. “And if I’m not mistaken, I detect the faint whiff of a shitload of money emanating from your direction. Am I right or am I right? Heh? Eau de one percent? No? Not at all? I’m asking because I also note a magnificent dose of Botox, not to mention an out-of-control breast reduction. If you ask me, that surgeon should have his hands cut off.”

The woman crosses her arms over her body, hides her face, and lets out shrieks of delight through her fingers. As he talks, the man strides quickly from one side of the stage to the other, rubbing his hands together and scanning the crowd. He wears platform cowboy boots, and as he moves the heels make a dry tapping sound. “What I’m trying to understand, honey,” he yells without looking at her, “is how an intelligent lady like yourself doesn’t realize that this is the kind of thing you have to tell someone carefully, judiciously, considerately. You don’t just slam someone with ‘You’re in Netanya.’ Bam! What’s the matter with you? You gotta give a guy some warning, especially when he’s so skinny.” He lifts up his faded T-shirt and a gasp passes through the room. “Ain’t it so?” He turns his bare chest to the people sitting on either side of the stage and flashes a big grin. “See this? Skin and bones. Mostly cartilage. I swear to God, if I was a horse I’d be glue by now, you know what I’m saying?” Embarrassed giggles and repulsed exhalations in response. “All I’m saying, sister,” he turns back to the woman, “is next time, when you give someone this kind of news, you need to do it carefully. Anesthetize him first. Numb him up, for God’s sake. You gently numb his earlobe, like this: Congratulations, Dovaleh, O handsomest of men, you’ve won! You’ve been chosen to take part in a special experiment on the coastal plain, nothing too long, ninety minutes, at most two hours, which has been determined to be the maximum permissible time for nonhazardous exposure to this location for the average person.

The audience laughs and the man is surprised. “Why are you dumbasses laughing? That joke was about you!” They laugh even harder. “Wait a minute, just so we’re clear, did they already tell you you’re just the opening audience, before we bring in the real one?” Whistles, snorts of laughter, a few boos from some parts of the room, a couple of fists thumping on tables, but most of the crowd is amused. A tall, slender couple comes in, both with soft golden locks falling over their foreheads. They’re a young boy and girl, or maybe two boys, clad in shiny black, with motorcycle helmets under their arms. The man onstage glances at them and a little wrinkle arches above his eye.

He moves constantly. Every few minutes he launches a quick punch into the air, then dodges his invisible opponent, deceptive and swift like a skilled boxer. The audience loves it. He tents his hand over his eyes and scans the darkened room.

I’m the one he’s looking for.

“Between you and me, pals, I should be putting my hand to my heart now and assuring you that I’m crazy—I mean crazy!—about Netanya, right?” “Right!” a few young audience members shout. “I should be explaining how I’m just so into being here with you on a Thursday evening in your charming industrial zone, and not just that but in a basement, practically touching the magnificent radon deposits while I pull a string of jokes out of my ass for your listening pleasure—correct?” “Correct!” the audience yells back. “Incorrect,” the man asserts and rubs his hands together gleefully. “It’s all a crock, except the ass bit, because I gotta be honest with you, I can’t stand your city. I get creeped out by this Netanya dump. Every other person on the street looks like he’s in the witness protection program, and every other other person has the first person rolled up in a black plastic bag inside the trunk of his car. And believe me, if I didn’t have to pay alimony to three lovely women and child support for one-two-three-four-five kids—count ’em: five—I swear to God, standing before you tonight is the first man in history to get postpartum depression. Five times! Actually four, ’cause two of them were twins. Actually five, if you count the bout of depression after my birth. But that whole mess ended up being a good thing for you, my darling Netanya, because if not for my milk-teethed little vampires, there is no way—none!—I’d be here tonight for the measly seven hundred fifty shekels Yoav pays me with no expenses and no gratitude. So let’s get going, my friends, my dearly beloveds, let’s party tonight! Raise the roof! Put your hands together for Queen Netanya!

The audience applauds, slightly befuddled by the reversal, but swept up nonetheless by the hearty roar and the sweet smile that lights up his face and completely transforms it. Gone is the tormented, mocking bitterness, replaced as if by a camera flash with the visage of a soft-spoken, refined intellectual, a man who couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the utterances that just spewed out of his mouth.

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