From: the public library
Recommendation from: Gaskella
In a nutshell:
Murray Tepper is a middle-aged denizen of New York City who works in the direct mail business and has recently started the habit of reading a newspaper in his parked car. However, he doesn’t need to park on the street as he pays for a garage.
This odd habit bewilders his family and also attracts the attention of strangers. Other drivers are confused and angry that he is not leaving the spot that they want. Members of the public find him either eccentric or a heroic figure: someone who is asserting his constitutional rights, someone who is somehow ‘sticking it to the man’. People seek him as one does a guru, and they sit in his car and tell them about their problems. The mayor, who finds hailing taxis from the street an act of anarchy, claims that Tepper is purposefully causing chaos. Tepper himself is a calm, placid enigma at the center of the hubbub.
I don’t read a lot of comic novels, so this book was a nice change of pace from my usual reading material. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is slyly humorous throughout the story. The comedy lies in how Trillin takes mundane things like parking or the direct mail business and makes them the main focal point of characters’ energy and strong opinions.
The mayor in particular is a figure of ridiculousness. He institutes a level of security in the city hall that is at a paranoid level, and fixates on parking as the root of all the city’s ills.
The mayor sat staring into the middle distance for a while, occasionally muttering a word like “fool” or “degenerate,” like a motor that is basically about out of fuel but is still coughing a bit irregularly.
There were some comic bits that didn’t work well for me, such as a repeating joke involving a sushi restaurant, but the best parts were those involving Tepper himself and the ongoing parking saga. The punchline at the end, which ties together the parking and the direct mail themes, was clever. Tepper is made to be a folk hero by most characters but the end hints at a possible different interpretation, leaving it to the reader to make the final judgment.
This is not a book I can necessarily rave about but it was pleasant and enjoyable, and makes me think I should try more straight-up comic novels in the future.
The book is also one of Thomas from My Porch’s all-time favorite books.