Side Effects by Woody Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Woody Allen’s “Side Effects” is most likely the funniest book I have read in my life. Almost each of the about two hundred pages contains at least one passage that made me laugh out loud, which makes things a bit tricky, especially when you read on the trolley and your fellow passengers look at you suspiciously and move to far-away seats.
Already the second paragraph on the first page is hilarious: “Needleman was constantly obsessing over his funeral plans and once told me, ‘I much prefer cremation to burial in the earth, and both to a weekend with Mrs. Needleman’”. As a mathematician I cannot avoid to laugh out loud at the “Oh, I ran into Isosceles. He has a great idea for a new triangle.” And the totally fabulous passage “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” And yet one more pearl of humor: “Never before has pornography been this rampant. And those films are lit so badly!”
Most of the book is just pure fun and devoid of any deeper content. However, I found four stories to be much more meaningful. “The Kugelman Episode” in which professor Kugelman meets Emma Bovary thanks to magician Persky (funny, I once met a Mr. Persky in Zakopane, and he was sort of a magician). Then “The Shallowest Man”, which is a great story about death and love. In “Fabrizio’s: Criticism and Response” Mr. Allen displays virtuoso literary skills writing about pasta. Finally, “Retribution” is one of the funniest stories about sex I have ever read.
What the heck, I am going to round my four and a half star rating up. The book is, of course, nothing in the class of Coetzee, Pynchon, Joyce, Faulkner, Vonnegut, etc., but the sheer hilarity factor is stunning. Allow me one last quote: “Wittgenstein used the above model to prove the existence of God, and later Bertrand Russell used it to prove that not only does God exist but He found Wittgenstein too short.” The previous five-star book I have read, Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five", is a masterpiece. This one is not, but it has been so much fun to read it.
Four and a half stars.
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