The characters who inhabit Chuck Kinder’s The Honeymooners are so annoyingly real that I had a hard time putting this book down. I raced through it in record time. The principal characters, Ralph Crawford, his wife Alice Ann, Jim Stark and his wife Judy are similar to Bob & Carol, Ted & Alice but with more drugs, more sex, more alcohol and, oh yeah, more writing. According to the buzz about this book, Kinder used his and Raymond Carver’s experiences together for Jim and Ralph respectively. If one-tenth of what is written in these pages actually happened, then it is a testament to their writing abilities that anything ever made it onto paper. I never knew that drugs and alcohol could produce such quality work. I may have to look into it that.
The premise is a simple one. Two young men struggle to become famous writers, they marry early and drag their hapless brides through a drug induced, cheque-bouncing life. Infidelity, alcoholism, abusive relationships (think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) spanning decades fill the pages. Is this what paves the path to fame and fortune? Interesting lives make for an interesting read, there’s no doubt about that, but what’s missing from these pages are the daily slog of putting words onto paper. Ralph and Jim’s days are filled with gin, vodka, and the occasional joint – no writing. Absent were scenes of sitting down at the typewriter, writer’s block, and hellish literary agents. However, if you are familiar with Raymond Carver’s titles, you will note that Kinder has used them as titles for Ralph’s short stories.
Are these characters too over the top to be believable? In a word, no. We all know couples who make the relationship that moths have with flames look productive and positive. If this were a mystery and you were to ask me whodunit, I’d have to say everyone. There are no saints in this novel. Ralph’s anniversary dinner is uproariously funny for the story about John Cheever, bad plastic, and disspelling the myth that middle-aged people can’t “Dine n’ Dash.” Some of the best scenes are when both couples sit down to dine and party. Ralph is one shaky, unraveling ball of electrical wires; his energy jumps off the page. Jim is the “Sad Sack” to Ralph’s mercurial personality – imagine Robin Williams on uppers and Rodney Dangerfield on downers and you have an idea of their friendship.
The literary name-dropping is fun, and the portrait of a writer’s life is enough to make the faint of heart take up something safe and easy, like shark dentistry. The mess that is Ralph’s life boggles the mind; how could someone so brilliant be so financially inept? Albeit Ralph’s main talent is for turning Jim’s life into highly successful fiction. My only question is this: When is the movie coming out?
I cannot recommend this novel to everyone, it is not a light read, it skewers some literary heavyweights, and if you like your dialogue the old fashioned way, with quotation marks, then you might want to pass on the stream of consciousness that is The Honeymooners. However, if you liked John Colapinto’s About the Author, if you adored Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, you will love The Honeymooners. In other words, if you love anti-heroes, if you enjoy scathing wit and intelligent wordplay, this is the book you will keep in your night table, at the cottage, and yes, everyman’s library, the bathroom. I give this deliciously gossipy gem four out of five stars.