cover image The Boss

The Boss

David Handler. Ballantine Books, $15 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-345-34929-3

Handler's second novel seeks to depict how the idealistic 1960s gave way to the pragmatic 1970s, but fails to develop the necessary comic energy to enliven the task. The novel's hero, Danny Levine, was a likable, bumbling, slightly overweight schlemiel in Handler's funny debut, Kiddo. In Boss, however, the author is at pains to demonstrate that, though still plump and inept, Danny has become not merely practical but downright wise through the experience of bumming around Europe for a year. His insight entitles him to marry the right girl, step in as heir apparent of his father's company and set a good example for his friends, all without losing an ounce of charm. The plot, however, is contrived, even cynical and anachronistic. Danny's discoveries are meant to be funny, poignant and evidence of a growing maturity, but Handler is working too hard at back-dating today's Yuppie verities to the culture of the early 1970s. Danny's greatest fear, he says, ""is that I'm going to live a life that's already been lived by somebody else.'' Actually, the nub of this installment's problem is that Danny is living a life that's going to be lived by someone elsehe's an '80s kind of guy trapped in a '70s setting. (April)