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Mere Insanity


Book jacketsTitle: The Insanity Defense / Mere Anarchy
Author: Woody Allen
Publisher: Random House (2007 / 2008)

The year 2007 saw the publication of Woody Allen’s fourth collection of prose fiction, Mere Anarachy, as well as the release of a collected edition of previously-published work in The Insanity Defense (“The Complete Prose”).

It turns out that it’s not just as a screenwriter/filmmaker that he’s lost his touch.

Mere Anarchy is a collection of eighteen sketches. Several were previously published in the New Yorker, and at least two in the New York Times (all within the past ten years). The Insanity Defense collects stories first published (in book form) in Getting Even (1971), Without Feathers (1975), and Side Effects (1980).

I yawned my way through the new book (Anarchy) a couple of months ago, and didn’t laugh out loud even once. Just now I consulted the table of contents, and thumbed my way through it. What I had remembered is true. It’s a forgettable collection.

Last week, I finished the collection of his older stories (Insanity). It was mostly as good as I’d remembered it, and these stories are anything but forgettable. Even after having not visited most of them in more than ten years, and before re-reading it, I was still carrying around fragments of dozens of these stories in my head. Many of the best of them are still laugh-out-loud funny (“The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers,” “Examining Physic Phenomena,” and the “Kugelmass Episode” should be read yearly, on a special holiday or something). A few short plays from from the earlier books are missing (this is “the complete prose”). One in particular, “God: A Play,” is missed (and presumably will be collected in a future “the complete plays”).

I’m pretty sure the space aliens from “Stardust Memories” are saying, somewhere, that they “really like Woody Allen’s writings; especially the earlier, funny stuff.”

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