cover image How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories

How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories

Carl Reiner / Author HarperCollins Publishers $20 (196p) ISBN

Veteran funnyman Reiner, best known for his role as Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show and for directing such classic comic films as The Jerk and Oh, God!, more recently scored (with Mel Brooks) a Grammy Award for his comedy album The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000. In this collection of 25 humorous short stories, he aims for lighthearted social commentary, to mixed effect. These tales are often wry one-note sketches, like ""Creation,"" in which God struggles with writing the Bible, changing the opener from ""Nemesis"" to ""Genesis"" and fostering hopes that ""The Good Book"" will be a top seller. Similarly jokey bits include ""Caz,"" where Casanova dies because he can't stop his compulsive sexual activity, and ""The Heidi and Albert Correspondence,"" which consists of a morning-after letter from a woman to the married but evidently randy Albert Einstein. The title story, the most introspective and complex in the collection, features a battle of wits in an army barracks bathroom between Corporal Carl Reiner and racist Staff Sergeant ""Bull"" Warrington. The corporal fights bigotry, and saves face, by reciting the formidable accomplishments of legendary black football hero and singer Paul Robeson. Other stories involve gorgeous but opportunistic women and a clever money-grubbing child, with appearances of a smattering of self-mocking or hapless Jewish characters. While many of these lightweight pieces are vaguely anticlimactic, the humor barely missing its mark, Reiner fans should detect the good-natured spirit behind the more robust sketches. (Oct.)