Today I learned that there’s a difference between the Man Booker and the Man Booker International Prizes, doh.
As with other Man Booker winners, this was eminently readable. But as also with far too many other Man Booker winners, this wasn’t as great as I’d expected. Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent so much time recently listening to people who’ve been severely damaged by their parents, but I finished the book thinking how much therapy would have helped Dov and his parents, both individually and as a unit. And I get that therapy isn’t a thing that his parents would have known how to get, but for God’s sake, Dov, it’s the 21st century. Instead of springing your personal horrors on an unsuspecting audience of (mostly) paying guests who’ve come to be amused by a stand-up routine, maybe hire a licensed professional for regular weekly sessions instead of figuratively and literally punching yourself in the face to the horror of the people around you.
And I get that this is supposed to be an extended metaphor for the act of writing and baring one’s soul for the entertainment of others, but it’s all made grotesque and frustratingly self-flagellating to the point where I was just exhausted by Dov’s endless well of self-pity. Yes, he had a fucked up childhood and yes, he acted out in adulthood to a degree that he cannot escape his self-loathing but it isn’t the job of strangers or even acquaintances or even friends to rescue you if you cannot try to fix yourself. While the people around you do have a responsibility to be kind (or at least polite,) they do not have the responsibility of saving you from yourself. When you make your problems performative, you only memorialize them instead of solving them, and I don’t have the patience for that nonsense, whether in real life or in make-believe entertainment.
I almost wish I knew more about internal Israeli politics so I could better see how the book works, as I’ve been assured by other professional readers, as a critique of their society, and I must say that I enjoyed reading all the exotic-to-me details of life there. But at its heart, A Horse Walks Into A Bar is a book about a kid who really should have started seeing a therapist as soon as he was old enough and solvent enough to afford one. People who can’t fix themselves, who can’t find happiness no matter what they do, need to talk to a professional who can help. That probably wasn’t the moral of the story as intended by David Grossman but it was 100% what I took away from this book.