cover image A Horse Walks into a Bar

A Horse Walks into a Bar

David Grossman, trans. from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. Knopf, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-451-49397-2

Grossman (To the End of the Land) masterfully balances the neuroses and hard-earned insight of veteran stand-up comedian Dov Greenstein with a defining memory that’s 40 years in the shaping. The story of Dov’s life—his worship of a mentally ill mother who survived the Holocaust, his contentious relationship with his father, his awkward adolescence, and a brief stay at a military camp in Gadna—unspools over one evening in a basement club in the small city of Netanya, Israel, related through the observations of Avishai Lazar, a boyhood friend of Dov’s and, later, a respected judge. As Dov immerses himself in his act, the audience—many of whom eventually walk out in bewilderment or anger at Dov’s deeply personal (and often decidedly grim) revelations—come to understand that, amid the self-deprecating humor and good-natured banter, the comedian is, for the first time, recounting the formative event of his life. “For an instant, when he looks up, the spotlight creates an optical illusion,” Avishai muses as he watches Dov discover what has lain hidden for decades, “and a fifty-seven-year-old boy is reflected out of a fourteen-year-old man.” Grossman wrestles with questions of faith and friendship, fate and family, with empathy, wisdom, and acerbic wit. (Feb.)