Friday 18 January 2013

Distant Intimacy

I'm currently reading an advance copy of Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet, a collection of sensationally entertaining email exchanges between Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein.

They're both American, Chicago-born. They're both secular Jews (and Jewishness, not Judaism, is a regular subject), both are untroubled by low self-esteem, both have a weakness for bad puns and they both choose to see themselves as outsiders. Neither man is in the first or even second flush - although Raphael gallantly notes that after 33 years of marriage his wife, once older than he, is now considerably younger.

The two authors remind me of the fastidious Felix Unger and shambolic Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Raphael is the more polished and Epstein, who still lives in Chicago, the rougher diamond. Raphael is the dazzling aphorist (and there's a zinger on every page), Epstein the  gutsier, more candid anecdotalist. They are both waspish (though naturally never WASPish), bracingly pre-PC in their attitudes and swift to demolish their contemporaries with gleeful swipes. They are sometimes serious - they both write very movingly about the loss of a child - but never solemn.

The publishers trumpet the fact that the two men have never met, or even spoken on the telephone to each other. Perhaps it's a selling-point. I hate to say I laughed out loud, but I really did, and very often. It's published at the end of March, an early and strong contender for my book of the year.

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