cover image What's Wrong with Dorfman?

What's Wrong with Dorfman?

John Blumenthal. St. Martin's Griffin, $12.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-9679444-0-1

Martin Dorfman is in rough shape. His work is ignored by film producers, his agent doesn't return his calls and the symptoms of his mysterious new disease baffle both his doctor and his wife. He is, in short, a typical Hollywood screenwriter. This is familiar territory for novelist and screenwriter Blumenthal, who has mined his own evidently wretched experiences in L.A. several times before, in The Official Hollywood Handbook, a history of Hollywood High and two hardboiled mysteries. Here, however, Blumenthal attempts something more ambitious. In his frequently hilarious and unexpectedly touching novel, Hollywood takes a backseat to the emotional travails of the perpetually anguished protagonist. Dorfman can't figure out what's wrong with him, but it's not for lack of trying. He visits several physicians, an herbalist and even a New Age practitioner called a ""chiropractic allergist."" Finally he caves in to his wife's demands and agrees to see a psychiatrist, who extracts from Dorfman's comically warped upbringing the root of all his current neuroses. Blumenthal succeeds here at something very difficult: he creates smart, funny characters who actually sound smart and funny. (""How's the world treating you, Martin?"" Dorfman's doctor asks at one point. ""Like a cat treats a catbox,"" replies Dorfman.) But Blumenthal's real feat is the sneaky, unexpected way he adds depth to Dorfman's hypochondriacal plight, distracting the reader with one-liners until it suddenly becomes clear that this is, in fact, a very serious book. The humorous chapters detailing script negotiations and rewrites feel like recycled material, but otherwise the book is a poignant and finely crafted exploration of the legacies and burdens passed down from parents to children. Blumenthal's novel may come in under the radar of fans of more commonplace noirish, gossipy L.A. tales, but those who happen upon it will be pleasantly surprised, beginning with the witty use of a Rembrandt painting on the cover. (Oct.)