Don’t Ever Get Old
Listen, if you like hardboiled mysteries with quirky characters and an offbeat plot you should really just stop reading and go pick up Daniel Friedman’s debut novel Don’t Ever Get Old. In a bizarre twist Don’t Ever Get Old is one of two novels this summer to feature a geriatric protagonist (the other being Barry Fantoni’s Harry Lipkin, Private Eye) but don’t let Buck Schatz’s eighty-odd years fool you he is as mean and as tough as he was back when he was policing the streets, even if his memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. The novel open’s with the deathbed confession of one of Buck’s former army buddies. The Nazi officer who tortured Buck during their internment at a POW camp survived the war and apparently escaped with car load of gold. This revelation nags at Buck and while he is initially reluctant to search for the offending Nazi a cavalcade to criminals, spies, and troubled individuals seemingly force him, and his grandson “Tequila,” into tracking down the gold.
While providing an often humorous mystery and a consistently clever cast of characters Don’t Ever Get Old really shines in that it so convincingly display’s Buck’s hidden terror of growing old. Cantankerous and flippant Buck’s attitude hides his fear from the people around him and only revealed to readers, particularly through interlude chapters entitled “Something I don’t want to forget.” Buck’s voice is darkly comic and his constant advice on life and aging is always entertaining. We offered such wonderful gems as “Visiting people in the hospital was a pain in the ass; I knew going in that they wouldn’t let me smoke, and I was always a little worried they wouldn’t let me leave.” Or his advice on long car rides: “Five hours is a long time to spend alone in a car with somebody you don’t have much in common with. Eventually they try to talk to you, and that never ends well.” Though, for all the humor of Buck’s wit there is an underlying sadness glimpsed in his words. As Buck himself puts it “It was getting hard to remember where things were and how they fit together, so my world had become a gradually shrinking circle, with the house in the middle of it.”
I find it difficult to believe that this is Friedman’s first novel. Buck is such a complete and honest character that it is something I’d expect out of a veteran writer. To create such a memorable character right out the gate is the sort of accomplishment that many other writers can only dream about. While this is a novel that ostensibly features a mystery it is by and large about Buck’s journey; about his unfinished business with the past. Unlike many detective stories Don’t Ever Get Old keeps you guessing until the end or close to the end. Friedman was adept at presenting numerous red herrings over the course of novel but when the final reveal did occur it made absolute sense even if I never saw it coming.
Violent without being gritty, humorous while still being insightful Don’t Ever Get Old hits all the right notes in its madcap journey. It is a novel steeped in Judaica as Buck’s Jewish identity is intrinsically tied not only to his past treatment during his wartime imprisonment but also to his current daily life and sense of community. It manages to touch on weighty issues without ever actually feeling heavy but is never so light as to feel irreverent. If you are looking for something new to read you could be hard pressed to find a novel as entertaining as Friedman’s debut Don’t Ever Get Old.