Forgotten authors No 23: Robert Klane

Christopher Fowler
Sunday 15 February 2009 01:00
Comments

So far, many of our neglected writers have been sensitive souls whose graceful prose has fallen from fashion. Robert Klane is the opposite: loud, lewd, offensive and hilarious, his books kicked black comedy back into style with a mix of taboo-busting farce and broad Jewish schtick.

Born in 1941, Klane has been described as "Max Shulman spiked heavily with the Marquis de Sade", but he also incited comparisons to Joseph Heller and JD Salinger. In his first novel, The Horse Is Dead, published in 1968, the hero Nemiroff works as a counsellor at Camp Winituck, which looks "like a poorly run concentration camp". Nemiroff's bullied childhood leaves him with a hatred of all children, and he soon declares war on his charges. By the time parents' day and the titular dead horse arrive, most barriers of good taste have fallen.

Klane's prose is as blunt as a chucked brick. He has no time for niceties, and recognises that the best dark comedy, like life, is painful, mean and short. Where's Poppa? (1970) may be the ultimate Jewish mother novel. Trapped at home with a senile parent, a dominated and sleep-deprived lawyer continually loses his cases and his girlfriends. His attempts to frighten his ancient mother to death must be nightly defeated by his guilt-laden brother, who runs a gauntlet of Central Park muggers in order to prevent matricide, and to halt the receipt of said mother into his own home. The film version, made with George Segal and Ruth Gordon, suffered a failure of nerve in the final furlong and avoided the novel's brilliantly ghastly Oedipal outcome.

Klane's third novel, Fire Sale, in which the owner of a failing department store plans to have it torched for the insurance money by hiring an arson-prone mental patient to do the job, was filmed with Alan Arkin and Sid Caesar.

The books are oddly endearing because they capture the sheer unfairness of life, particularly as it was lived in the early 1970s. Like great farceurs before him, Klane tackled sex, family, madness and death, roughly in that order.

Klane eventually made the switch into film and television, writing several episodes of M*A*S*H, an unproduced sequel to Grease entitled "Greasier", and making Weekend at Bernie's and its sequel, two mildly amusing films which, like Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, featured a deceased leading character. His books are now all out of print, but worth picking up if you stumble across them.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in