A Horse Walks into a Bar is the story of Dov Greenstein’s stand-up routine, showcasing one evening in Netanya Israel. It would not be at all accurate to portray Dov’s routine as comedy.
The novel begins with Dov taking the stage and immediately insulting his audience. Pretending to believe he was in the city of Caesara, he exclaims “‘Oh, wait a minute…this isn’t Caesara, is it?…Looks like my agent f****d me again.'” The audience roars with laughter.
The routine continues along the line of insults and jokes and the energy waxes and wanes. Dov’s childhood friend, Avishai Lazar, a retired District Court Judge, is in the audience at Dov’s urging. Dov and Avishai have not seen each other since Dov was 14. Dov is now 57. Peculiarly, and not at Dov’s urging, a short woman from Dov’s childhood is also in the audience. Her presence seems to unsettle him and throws his routine into unexpected and extremely personal territory as he progressively seems to unravel on stage.
Dov and Avishai were lonely children who found each other through a math tutor. Dov kept Avishai amused and engaged, but as it turned out, Avishai did not know much about Dov at all. Avishai learns what he did not know through the very personal on stage routine that evening and ponders the reaction of the audience to the story. “I have no doubt they would have gotten up and left long ago, or even booed him off the stage, if not for the temptation that is so hard to resist–the temptation to look into another man’s hell.”
Through Dov’s routine, Avishai muses about his life and his relationship to Dov. Although resistant to attend the show, and tempted to leave throughout, Avishai stays and finds an unexpected empathy with Dov. The routine ends in exhaustion.
The book describes the comedian’s ability to manipulate the audience and the changing moods of the audience in a way that makes the reader feel the changes. But the book is less about stand-up comedy and the fickleness of audiences than it is about Dov’s personal story and the complexities and politics of life in Israel.
The book is thoughtful and expresses emotion in a way that makes you feel the experience along with the characters. The novel won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize and is a worthwhile, rewarding read. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11238745__Sa%20horse%20walks%20into%20a%20bar__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold