February 2006

Angela Stubbs


Adriane on the Edge by Paul Mandelbaum

In the late '90s, Adriane Gelki yearned to begin the millennium auspiciously. Maybe she should have become better friends with the man who created her to understand what that feels like. Paul Mandelbaum’s latest novel, Adriane on the Edge chronicles the life and times of Adriane as she prepares herself for the year 2000. Mandelbaum writes in earnest about what it’s like to live your life on the edge as well as the pitfalls and misadventures that sometimes occur when we try too hard to force destiny’s hand. While he tackles issues that afflict most of us (relationships, life, death and love) in an albeit gender specific manner, he manages not to fall into a genre we won’t discuss here.

Although Mandelbaum’s previous release, Garrett in Wedlock was deemed a “novel-in-stories,” Adriane on the Edge reads much more linearly. The point-of-view here never vacillates between other characters, but rather remains with the off-kilter, feisty Adriane. Mandelbaum takes real life-situations and addresses them without trepidation. Teeming with energy and even moments of insanity, Adriane’s escapades (whether they be failed relationships or living by “sagacious bon mots” of Don Corleone) are at the very least fraught with true human emotion and often, all too familiar scenarios.

Adriane on the Edge begins with “Adriane and the Personal Ad.” After reading a personal ad with prose that was indeed better than a hooker’s, Adriane invites said author of ad to join her and her best friend Joan for advice on how to become more aggressive when it comes to men. In Adriane’s attempt to be bold and approach this new life, she flashes an undercover cop who promptly arrests her under suspicion of prostitution. Never mind the fact that she was riding in a side-car being driven by her new British, wheelchair-stricken friend when the incident took place.

As complex as life can be, Adriane’s approach to a wilder, crazier life doesn’t just consist of a great personal ad or traveling to towns where French is the spoken language, but rather closure on the death of both her parents; honesty with herself and her close friends and most of all, stability of some kind albeit personal or professional. Living life in Baltimore and drinking Manhattans like her father did, Adriane comes across as a creature of habit. She leaves softcore porn on for her adopted Sheltie when she leaves the house; always totes a batch of Manhattans along with her on her visit to the Jewish cemetery where her father is buried and repeats the words of Thelonius Monk as if they were gospel.

If Adriane is sure of anything, it’s that she wants her life to change but this deal has strings attached. In fact, she’s so sick of having regrets that she conjures up this idea of a land where Edith Piaf’s, “Je Ne Regrette Rien” is the theme song and everyone can live regret-free; a Piafville, if you will. All eleven chapters take the reader through the loops and hoops that Adriane seems bound to jump through in her quest for a life of abandon. Each of Mandelbaum’s stories takes us careening from page to page waiting to find out what Adriane will say and do next. Adriane’s aspirations to love and be loved are very human and moreover, keep her likeable and honest in a way that some other characters don’t. Rarely cavalier in his sprinkling of comedy, Mandelbaum gives us equal amounts of humor and tragedy in Adriane on the Edge. Wrestling the rough-edges that surround Adriane’s emotional exterior is what Mandelbaum does best. There is a plaintiveness and vulnerability here.

Perhaps the best section of the book is “Adriane and the Dogs of Varanasi.” It is within this story we see the spiritual side of Adriane. Better yet is the knowledge Paul Mandelbaum has for all things India. While this final chapter is one of the most enchanting, it’s also one that propels itself forward with less alacrity and more trepidation about using comedy to deal with tragedy. This last story examines how Adriane deals with yet another death in her immediate family: Barry, her dog. If one thing is for certain, it’s that Paul Mandelbaum is capable of deviating from the norm. He drives full-force ahead with his prose and at the same time captures raw emotion with vivid attention to detail.

Mandelbaum is definitely in touch with mind, body and soul. He knows how to make you laugh, cry and say adieu even to the most amateur of French pornographers. Adriane on the Edge is fraught with bold gestures, awkward situations and emotions that always run on high. In the midst of all chaos that enraptures Adriane’s life, Mandelbaum delves deeper into the human heart to unleash the insecurities, the pain and regret so we might be able to live a life of abandon. Difficult as it may sound to do such a thing, Mandelbaum even gives us an alternative by offering up open admission to a regret-free land called Piafville. Adriane on the Edge is one journey you’ll have to read to find out where she ends up.

Adriane on the Edge by Paul Mandelbaum
Penguin Books/Berkley Publishing Group
ISBN: 0425208036
241 pages