This novella is narrated by Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a man who previously worked in numerical codes at a large computer company before essentially becoming a recluse in his own apartment due to his increasingly debilitating rituals, routines, and anxieties. His more incapacitating obsessions and compulsions include the maintenance of 1125 wattage of lights shining in his apartment at any one time and the inability to cross over curbs. This latter obsession requires of him that he crosses the street at "dugout" car driveways and that even regular trips to the Rite-Aid drugstore for medications and groceries result in "figure-8" routes.

He is clearly socially inept, with helpless fantasies about his pharmacist, Zandy, and the real-estate agent, Elizabeth, who is trying to lease the apartments across the street. Nevertheless, his upstairs neighbors, Phillipa and Brian, become his friends almost against his will, and his weekly visits with a training "shrink," Clarrisa, turn into a less professional and more personal relationship. It is this latter relationship with Clarissa and her son Teddy that develops into a moving portrait of friendship and longing.


It would seem natural for a comedian as successful and popular as Steve Martin to write a comic book, especially in the zany style he made so famous with his television appearances. But just as he has matured into a more respected actor than his early wackiness might suggest was possible, so his writing has become shaded with a complexity he could not express with his surrealism and arrow-through-the-head stage antics.

Indeed, the temptation to see Daniel Pecan Cambridge as a comic figure is exploited by Martin--for example, the name itself suggests a screwball comic creation, but during the course of the novella, it comes to have a more rational, somber provenance. Similarly, the neuroses and obsessions may lead to amusing moments, and Martin is always quick with a comic simile (some more effective than others), but his finest writing comes in his lengthy descriptions of the agony of violating these obsessions. The visual picture Martin paints is often a comic one, but the writing lets him get to the suffering underneath.



Place Published

New York



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