Rudolph Delson: Maynard & Jennica

Clearly covers in bold white, black and red are in fashion this season – and obviously they work on me, as this is third I’ve read in a month after Exit Ghost and Miss Herbert. Rudolph Delson’s debut novel Maynard & Jennica is as textually playful as either of those books, but more of an out-and-out entertainment.  And what entertainment!

One review compares this book to Annie Hall, and that’s valid enough in that it’s a intelligent Jewish-tinged romantic comedy set in New York – and more than that, a romantic comedy that might actually make you feel romantic, or like laughing.  But significantly the comparison seems a shrewd one because above all Maynard & Jennica reads like one of those American TV series that we’re always being told are so much better than British ones.

If we’re sticking to Woody Allen though, a better reference would be Husbands and Wives, as the book is written as an oral biography, with the various players ‘talking to camera’ about Maynard Gogarty and Jennica Green: the two themselves, their families, their friends and innocent bystanders.  Maynard Gogarty is a thirtysomething composer and filmmaker when the book opens, in late 2000, given to wearing boater hats and, of course, looking for love:

Love should not be the spoils of a deliberate campaign or the convenient alliance of a war of attrition.  Love should be an instant and supernatural uproar in the soul.  It should be the resounding of a bell.

The bell that signals Maynard’s discovery of love is the alarm in the subway, when he ends up trapped on a train with Jennica (“A shapely twist of a woman, dressed in black, with two beauty spots on her right cheek”).  The next few minutes are told over forty pages, from the points of view of Maynard, Jennica, and other passengers (on Maynard: “He look like he just step in something nasty.  … He got a face like something cold just touch his balls”).  It’s at this point we realise that Delson can make a funny and gripping narrative out of nothing happening in a static subway train.  Watch out.

Eventually “the train leaves the station like a dog on a leash – lingering behind to sniff the stains on the platform, then jolting ahead, down the tunnel, already smelling the urine of Grand Central.”  And Maynard and Jennica circle around one another and around New York (“the cosmic filth; the ceaseless noise, the heedless noise; the decades of bad coffee; the decades of bad plumbing; the appalling poor, wailing at you on the subway; the appalling wealthy, kneeing you in the shops”), and the narrative goes back and forward and from hand to hand, and dog similes change to expensive pedigree cat stories, and to a great set piece about the naming of a new pet.

Delson maintains distinct voices for Maynard and Jennica, though he sometimes relies too much on tics such as Maynard’s tendency to leave – pauses between words, or Jennica’s, like, scatterbrain syntax, which, I don’t know if you like that sort of thing or not.   Maynard is deliberately a touch irritating, and Jennica wants an “illustrious” life – “Jennica can’t live in California,” her brother tells us, “because she thinks only successful people live in New York.”  Jennica finds herself fretting about love, “but I don’t think my life is as sad as, like, Wuthering Heights, or Love in the Time of Cholera, or Dave Eggers, or whatever.”

As well as giving us a romance which is truly fun to read, Delson’s story also deals in family and cultural pressures, and surprises us in its second half by offering a new fictional take on September 11, 2001, where Maynard rails against the manipulation of sentiment by the media in the days that follow, with one newspaper publishing obituaries of every victim which it calls “Portraits of Grief”:

One hundred and fifty words, two hundred words, proclaiming in the most dire platitudes available the hallowed uniqueness of every one of these stockbrokers, stock traders, stock characters.  This one was unique because he was – a doting father!  We must never forget this – doting father! This one was unique because she – always made people laugh!  We must never forget this – funny, funny gal!  They’re all dead, and it’s so sad!  It’s so sad that – this man whose most unique and noteworthy characteristic was that he loved to have a good time and hang out with his buddies is now lost to Western civilisation.

Even now, this seems like a bold viewpoint to place even in the mouth of a fictional character.  The anger and humour keeps the book flowing, though it could plausibly have been a little shorter in the end, and what it lacks in superficial plot (though there’s enough of that, from hidden wives to Dickensian coincidences) it more than makes up for in liveliness and character.

I can imagine this book becoming a cult hit, and spawning in the years to come a flood of little Jennicas – though hopefully not too many Maynards.  And overall, I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed silly by Maynard & Jennica. But please don’t take that as a challenge.


  1. It must be my British heritage but I never watch our sitcoms and I love the British ones I can get. I have dvds of every Ab Fab show and, I think, French & Saunders. I love Dr. Who and have for about thirty years. This book sounds so American and, you are right, Woody Allenish that I plan to give it a miss. I got tired of Woody about the time of Annie Hall and I think that was his last good film. If I did not have SUCH a pile of British books to read I might consider it but I now have to try and read all of Dumas to keep up with Dovegrey as well as Prince Rupert and his teardrop and Cranford. I am so behind. And of course you are not helping by recommending all these good books.

  2. It sounds great. I’m on a bit of a New York bent at the moment, having recently treated myself to a little stay in the Big Apple, so this looks like one to add to the collection. The cover is very cool, too.

  3. Yes Candy, I can well imagine that the whole Noo Yawk setting could be a lot less enticing for Americans than for me. I should add that with very few exceptions (The Simpsons in its day?), I don’t agree with the general view given above about US TV shows. A true auteured UK comedy like The Office or Fawlty Towers can knock the socks off any number of witty-by-committee US shows.

    kimbofo, I’ve only been to NY once and loved it. Yep, it was nice to be back just now, albeit only in the sure hands of Mr Delson.

  4. Well I used to live in NYC and hated it but I love the city from a distance. I am just tired of the hackneyed Americanisms. Perhaps if I were British I might be sick of British tv. I have to work pretty hard these days to find the British programs I love. I haven’t seen Fawlty Towers on over here in years. This is why I have dvds of Ab Fab. I would have all the Dr. Whos also but the recent ones are very expensive. My all time favorite program is Monty Python and, thankfully, we still get that sometimes on late night public television. Nothing will ever eclipse the pythons.

  5. John Self said:

    Clearly covers in bold white, black and red are in fashion this season – and obviously they work on me,

    So a review of Ali Smith’s Boy Meets Girl in the near future is all but guaranteed then?

    It sounds like something I might read. I especially like the quote about the 9/11 obituaries. But sadly no hardbacks for me until Santa’s been.

  6. Ooh no, the Ali Smith is more cream and silvery-pink, surely! Actually I do like her stuff (at least more than the general dismissal that The Accidental seemed to get everywhere) so I might look into it.

  7. Oh dear, another title for my lengthening To Buy list. Still, I’ve got a long Xmas break to get through some of them. “Love should be an instant and supernatural uproar in the soul. It should be the resounding of a bell.” That’s just brilliant.

  8. John, I see Picador is planning to publish all its new novels in paperback and other publishers may follow. About time too, methinks. Apparently hardbacks make little money but snotty reviewers won’t review books unless they’re in hardback. So what happens is that a book’s reviewed in hardback, I think That sounds good, and then by the time it’s in paperback I’ve forgotten all about it, unless I’ve noted the details. It all sounds like a breath of fresh air to me, not to mention commercial common sense.

  9. I read that too Nick. I have mixed feelings about it, not because I am attached to hardbacks (in fact I have been known to buy the hardback because I want to read the book immediately, and then buy the paperback when it comes out and dispose of the h/b as the p/b takes up less shelf space than the hardback…!) but because I do think paperback sales must benefit from the ‘lead-in’ of a hardback being around for up to a year before. It’s like the cinema release of a film acting like a launch pad for the DVD. Er, sort of.

    Also seeing the paperback appear acts as a reminder – oh yes, I meant to look at that back when it came out in hardback last year. So each title gets two bites at the purchaser’s cherry, as it were. Not any more.

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