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Fridays at Enrico’s by Don Carpenter

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On the surface, “do what you love, love what you do” is sound advice. After all, Steve Jobs said it. So did Oprah. Even Confucius might have. But if you love it, would it be work? And once it becomes work, would you still love it?

I tend to think that “do what you love, love what you do” is a sentiment of the privileged – those who have the option to do what they love. Most don’t. The average person needs money to live, eat, and thrive. Does money buy happiness? No, but I would not advise attempting to pay your rent with a hug either. Furthermore, if people pursue the path they love, but fail to earn a living wage, does that make their love for that path any less significant? Are they not passionate enough? Not driven enough? Because not every person who strives to be a writer will succeed, nor will every photographer, painter, or athlete.

Fridays at Enricos

The particular unhappiness of a writer is peculiar*. Writing is easy, but critical success and personal satisfaction are difficult – commercial success even more so. When a group of writers began getting together at a little café named Enrico’s (in the late ‘60s), most of what was discussed wasn’t their success in writing or their technique, it was just life and love and insults. Don Carpenter, Curt Gentry, Evan S. Connell, and Richard Brautigan* were the primary members of a group that met on and off for over a decade at the little café in North Beach. Carpenter would eventually turn these nights into his final (unpublished and mostly unfinished) novel – Fridays at Enrico’s. Jonathan Lethem finalized the novel for publication and it is due out in April 15, 2014.

Fridays at Enrico’s tells the story of four writers – Jaime, Charlie, Dick, and Stan – who achieve varying levels of success. Jaime is young and in love when she marries the older, worldly Charlie. Charlie, a war veteran and aspiring writer, can’t manage to finish his novel and when Jaime’s very first attempt is a success – he can’t cope. Dick manages to publish one story in Playboy, but then fails to right anything else of merit. Stan, a thief and ex-convict, is the least talented of the group, but the most commercially successful. They all face bouts of melancholy and depression; they’re all paralyzed by self-doubt. They fall in love, they succumb to lust and their ambition and expectation can get the better of them. The novel follows the group between California and Oregon, from the 1950s and the 1970s.

While there is no shortage of novels about the struggles of a writer, I can’t help but think that this one is special. It’s sublime, melancholy, hopeful, and quite possibly perfect. Don Carpenter was one of the finest writers around, but never achieved much in the way of recognition. His characters and locations are finely drawn and he handles emotions with depth, clarity, and ease. It’s not a novel that I think everyone will love, nor is it a novel that I can easily pinpoint an audience for. It’s a charming look at the beginnings of west coast counterculture, the unexplainable unhappiness of an artist, and love, loss, success, and failure of four writers (who want to love what they do, but often fail to do so). I’m so glad Fridays at Enrico’s will finally see the light of day. 5/5.

Do you buy into the “do what you love, love what you do” mantra? Or do you believe work and play should be kept separate? While I doubt it’s anyone’s passion, someone will always have to empty the dumpster, And that has value too.

Ramoz Fizz

Serve with a Ramos Fizz. While it’s a bit more complicated than I like my drinks, I can see the appeal.

“What can I get you?” Neil asked.
“Ramos Fizz,” Jaime decided. A candy-ass drink, according to her husband, but they made them so well here. 

*Of the four writers mentioned, two committed suicide.
**I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion. 

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