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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Reviewed: June 20, 2005
By: Mordecai Richler / narrated by Paul Hecht
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
4 1/2 hours on 4 CDs, $0.00

BTC Audio Books spring from the studio recordings done for CBC's nightly book broadcast, Between the Covers. Some of the material that Gooselane editions has sent me to listen to has been brand new, but there is also a wealth of recorded material in the CBC archive, and this presentation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is one of those, having been adapted for radio by the author back in 1980. Even at that point it had been 20 years since  the book first appeared, so a package like this is long overdue.

You won't like Duddy. He's a Jewish Holden Caufield without any of the redeeming qualities. It's no wonder. His father is a cab driver/pimp with pretensions who affectionately favours his older brother, Lenny, and tells his beer buddies this about his younger son, "Naw, He's not gonna be a sawbones. Duddy's a dope like me, aren'tcha kid?"

At home he has his grandfather who, no matter how well things may be going in the family, is never satisfied, for to his Old World way of thinking, "A man without land is nothing."

So Duddy, who we meet as a preteen and follow for 15 or 20 years, grows up looking for the main chance, looking out for number one, looking to find a way to raise a stake and buy some land in order to become a Somebody.

His role models are scam artists, crooks and drug smugglers, and he even serves as an unwitting drug mule for one of Montreal's big time criminals during one memorable trip to New York City.

As he gets older (I'm not sure the phrase "grows up" would apply to him) Duddy becomes involved with a succession of get rich quick, easy money schemes that turn out to be anything but either. He is a one-man pyramid operation who collapses on himself with depressing regularity and never seems to learn better.

Paul Hecht gives us  great reading of a fascinating story, but the book is ultimately frustrating because its central character is so incapable of getting past his imprinting. While there are times when he can rise above himself and show moments of true greatness in dealing with his family and friends, mostly he can't seem to see beyond the next trick, and he always used his ends to justify his means.

This is a good performance of a worthy novel, but it's not a story that will leave you feeling good about the state of humanity.

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