Sometimes, my favorite parts of a novel are its bits of nonfiction – delicious, crazy facts the author pulls from real life and weaves into the story.
This is the case with Alan Shapiro’s “Broadway Baby” (Algonquin; $13.95), a novel studded with comic anecdotes so good it would be hard to make them up. Shapiro will give a reading and sign copies of his novel 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
“Broadway Baby” is the story of Miriam Gold, a Jewish girl from Boston whose life doesn’t end up matching the show-business fame she craves.
It’s the first novel for Shapiro, who teaches creative writing at UNC Chapel Hill, but it didn’t begin as fiction.
Shapiro, an award-winning poet and memoirist, began writing a series of autobiographical essays some years ago. “But I got to the point where I was writing about things I knew so well, there was no sense of discovery,” he told me. “I was basically just telling stories on the page that I’d told in life.”
So he started making stuff up, he says, “and writing became fun again.” Among his creations is Miriam herself. Miriam never achieves her own stage career, but she becomes the consummate stage mom when she spots talent in her oldest son.
Though Miriam’s inner life is pure fiction, other parts of the book draw from Shapiro’s family history. Miriam’s youngest son, Sam, becomes a poet, like Shapiro.
When Sam sends his parents his first book of poetry, titled “Family Matters,” Miriam is perplexed.
“From the sound of it,” she tells her husband, Curly, “you’d think he was raised by Nazis in a concentration camp.”
“Don’t worry Miriam,” Curly replies. “It’s poetry. No one’s gonna read it, and those that do won’t get it.”
Shapiro’s parents gave his poetry similar reviews. Telling lower middle-class Jews from Boston that you’re a poet, he says, “is like saying you’re a shepherd.”
When Miriam attends one of Sam’s readings, she finds he’s not the performer he should be. He fidgets and fails to make eye contact. He also makes the mistake of looking at the clock in the room.
“Stop lookin’ at the clock!” Miriam barks.
Later, he does it again.
“Enough with the clock already,” she calls out. “Buy a watch!”
Yep. That painful passage is also based on a true story.
Shapiro’s mom now lives in a Chapel Hill retirement community. Though she was never a stage mom, he credits both his mother and his late father with a remarkable wit. That wit comes through clearly in this new novel.