Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Putting On the Ritz

by Pa Rock

Putting On the Ritz is the second novel of comedic writer Joe Keenan, following closely the heels of his first hugely successful effort, Blue Heaven, and featuring three of the main characters from that debut effort.

The story's narrator, Philip Cavanaugh, and his best friend, Gilbert Selwyn, are gay young men who operate on the fringe of society and the entertainment industry in New York City.  Philip is half of a composing team that struggles to write and produce successful stage musicals.  Gilbert is a writer who lives off the kindness of others and seldom writes anything.

Greed was the motivator in Blue Heaven as Gilbert arranged to marry a very disagreeable woman whom he did not love so that they could collect and divide a pile of wedding gifts dutifully surrendered by their rich relatives and friends.   In Putting On the Ritz, however, the motivation for action becomes love as Gilbert and Philip each fall under the romantic spell of a magazine editor.

The editor, Tommy Parker, shamelessly leads each of the young men on and uses them to further his own agenda helping his boss, a well known New York billionaire, embarrass and perhaps ruin another New York billionaire.  The second billionaire, (who bears a striking resemblance to an actual New York billionaire currently involved in politics) has a wife who gave up a mediocre career as a cabaret singer years ago - and now wants to make a comeback.  As a part of a devious duplicity, Philip and his other friend, his composer-partner Claire, get themselves hired to help the singer launch a late-in-life career.  (Philip is willfully being duplicitous in order to gain Tommy's attention and romantic rewards.  Claire is his unwitting accomplice.)

And from there it gets dicey.

Joe Keenan, a former writer and producer for the television show Frasier, is relentlessly laugh-out-loud funny and he is a master plotter who never tires of surprising his readers.   His writing is often compared to that of P.G. Wodehouse, especially with regard to the same type of hapless characters that people Keenan's and Wodehouse's works.   As one reads a Keenan novel, the expectation is that Jeeves and Wooster are sitting just around the corner enjoying a cup of coffee or battling hangovers.

Blue Heaven (1988) and Putting on the Ritz (1992) have been alone on bookshelves for more than twenty years, but there is now a third novel out featuring the antics of Philip and Gilbert and Claire.  It is called My Lucky Star - and I can't wait to get a copy!

Joe Keenan offers a refreshing and necessary break in the tedium of life.

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