cover image No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter

Joseph L. Heller, Speed Vogel. Putnam Publishing Group, $2.98 (335pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13086-1

In alternating chapters, Heller and Vogel recount Heller's bout with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing affliction that struck him in 1981, from which he has now recovered. The two voices blend magnificentlythe authors have been friends for 25 yearsand together they engagingly draw readers into Heller's hospital room and into both their lives. The physical and emotional ramifications of Heller's condition, for himself and his circle of friends (Mario Puzo, Dustin Hoffman, Mel Brooks), are honestly detailed; and Heller, in his first nonfiction work, movingly and unsentimentally describes the experiences of paralysis, illness and rehabilitation. Stories of disease are unlikely to be as lively and fun as thisthere is even a love interest as Heller falls in love with his nurseand for anyone interested in Heller and his work, the book is a treasure trove of biographical information. Repetition slows the bookthe derivation of the name Kinky Friedman (he makes a cameo appearance in Good as Gold is offered several times; Joseph Stein is more than once identified as the author of Fiddler on the Roofand the authors seem to name-drop when they describe the social scene at Mt. Sinai, but as one friend of Heller's remarked to Vogel after a visit to the hospital: ""It was not like visiting any other patient. It was sheer entertainment.'' First serial to the New York Times Magazine. (February 21)