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Good as Gold by Joseph Heller
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Good as Gold (1979)

by Joseph Heller

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There are three themes in Joseph Heller’s ‘Good as Gold’, published in 1979 when the author was 56, and 18 years after his masterpiece ‘Catch-22’. The first is to describe the Jewish experience growing up in America, which Heller’s character Bruce Gold sets out to do but struggles because he’s not sure he’s had one. Instead, Heller illustrates with everything surrounding Gold: for example, his loud, opinionated, and verbally abusive father, the very blunt way he and his own daughter communicate, and the racism against Jews by elites and those in power. Gold has a constant feeling of persecution, and it’s almost always by those less intelligent than himself.

The next is to skewer the American government of the mid-70’s, which had just gone through Nixon, Watergate, and Vietnam. Heller takes special aim at Henry Kissinger, who his character sees as a war-mongering, self-serving egomaniac who is a traitor to his race and possibly a war criminal. I found these parts of the book to be especially good. The incompetence of those in power, the lack of qualification necessary to get cabinet posts, the talking in circles and lying, the government spying on its own citizens, politicians making money by writing books instead of serving jail time for their scandals, and the bureaucracy of it are all parodied. As he tries to get a job in government, it’s explained to him that “This president doesn’t want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them.” All of this is timely reading with Trump as president, and this reminder of the dark times America went through dealing with Nixon’s abuse of power and a number of scandals in government at the time, and yet persevered, perhaps provides solace to our current sad state of affairs.

Lastly, Heller is also describing a darkening view of life at middle-age. He doesn’t have the perfect marriage, and cheats. He wants a sexually free woman, but recoils from just how free some of them are. He sees stupidity and sadism in the recent conservative administration and in the rich, but he is also disillusioned about liberals, idealism, and mankind in general. “Either Gold had grown more conservative or civilization had grown progressively worse. Or both.” He laments urban decay on Coney Island, where he grew up. He wishes to look back at his life and his youth, but finds several times that his memories of how things were are not accurate.

I suppose this is the reason for not giving the book a higher rating – while it’s not completely dark and there is humor throughout, and while it may be a perfectly honest snapshot of Heller at this time in his life, it does feel a bit too much like a crotchety old man at times, and less enjoyable as a result. You could certainly do worse though. ( )
1 vote gbill | Feb 8, 2017 |
Bruce Gold is a college professor, the youngest son in a crazy Jewish family, and the next Secretary of State. Or maybe not; it's hard to tell. Every time a character says something, the next statement always contradicts it as Heller skewers academia and politics.

Heller is generally known for being a one hit wonder with Catch-22 being his only good book, but I didn't think this one was so bad. I really liked the witty wordplay which made me laugh out loud at times; however, I found I just wasn't able to keep up with the overall message of the novel because it was a little too abstract. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
Loved it the first time I read it. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
Loved it the first time I read it. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
Loved it the first time I read it. ( )
  Thomas_Cannon | Nov 5, 2014 |
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Epigraph
I've got his pecker in my pocket.

- Lyndon B. Johnson

as U.S. Senate Majority Leader
If you ever forget you're a Jew, a gentile will remind you.

- from a story by Bernard Malamud
Dedication
I dedicate this book
to
The several gallant families
and
Numerous unwitting friends
whose
Help, conversations, and experiences
play so large a part.
First words
Gold had been asked many times to write about the Jewish experience in America.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684839741, Paperback)

Bruce Gold, a middle-aged, Jewish professor of English literature, finds himself on the brink of a golden career in politics -- and not a moment too soon, as Gold yearns for an opportunity to transform a less-than-picture-perfect life: His children think little of him, his intimidating father endlessly bullies him, and his wife is so oblivious that she doesn't even notice he's left her. As funny as it is sad, Good as Gold is a story of children grown up, parents grown old, and friends and lovers grown apart -- a story that is inimitably Heller.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Gold accepts a government post in Washington, considers leaving his wife, and all the while he is also searching for material to write his book on the Jewish experience in America, without realizing he is going through that experience.

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