William Herman was a dean at City College, a professor of English Literature, a film maker, a story teller and a man who loved women, especially his wife of nearly 40 years –Joanna Clapps—a noted author and a teacher of creative writing.  Bill enjoyed family, good food, travel, language, and reading. As a scholar and teacher Bill’s two special interests were James Joyce and Elizabethan theater. In his long life he started several theaters, was a poet, playwright and director, a private detective, a make up artist for film and television. He worked on such films as Lilith, On the Waterfront, and The Pawn Broker. But more than anything else he was a reader. He could easily read up to 8 hours a day. He sank into books, newspapers, magazines, anything with letters on a field. The title The Man Who Beat Life expresses how Bill, who died in 2013,  felt about his own life. 


OTHER BOOKS BY WILLIAM HERMAN

 

Film and the Critical Eye by Denise Denitto and William Herman.  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1975.

 

Understanding Contemporary American Drama by William Herman.  University of South Carolina Press, 1987

            In PAIN, a woman’s visit to the doctor becomes a complex and life-changing event for both of them. JUDAIC STUDIES portrays a scholar on vacation in Vienna contacted by a former student; but all is not what it seems and he gets much more than he bargained for. NEWS: Herbie, a city Jew, has a hard time getting through to his wife, Linda, a rural southerner. But when visiting her mother back home, Linda faces realities that bring her closer to her husband.

In HEARTLAND, when Pete meets Chancy, a Cambodian refugee, he falls in love, but his childhood buddy, Ellis, won’t commit to being best man. In the weeks before the wedding, they dance between personal bonds and general prejudice. SMOKE revolves around a son’s remembrance of his father and the rugged geography of father-son relationships. In ARMOIRE a daughter battles the lasting repercussions of her parents’ divorce and struggles to resolve her disappointments with her father. I’M NOT GLORIA: Jacob Feschbach has enough trouble in his life, but then his “painintheass” father comes back from the dead.

            THE MAN WHO BEAT LIFE is a tale with a twist: an uninvited dinner guest is brought to Thomas and Annie’s dinner party, and spellbinds the guests with an improbable tale of a psychiatrist’s patient who longs for love.The question that arises in the minds of readers is, of course, is it possible for any person -- man, woman, child -- or even any animal can beat life? Do the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others about experiences, real and imaginary --stories left behind for other generations to share, reinterpret, and enjoy -- do they make it possible for us to "beat life" at least for a while?


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The first response:


The Man Who Beat Life is an energetic and psychologically insightful collection of short stories bound together by a Psychotherapist "Reader," who has been asked to share his reactions.  As the "actual" consumers, we peer over his shoulder to read the mostly first person narratives, including a female voice, and find ourselves privy to the struggles of a lively, self-reflective/self-critical intelligence in confrontation with the vicissitudes of enigmatic and complex relationships.   The nine narratives at times suggest a series of elaborated therapeutic sessions.  Like sessions, many are framed by failed relationships, and address erotic attractions and longings for romantic or familial love.  To a greater or lesser extent, each of the stories reflects the classical analytic tension between the pleasure and reality principles, between desires and aspirations, and life as experienced.  The language is deceptively light, at times almost manic, but above all infused with humor. The prose is generously sprinkled with hyperbole, wordplay and artful metaphor.  In stories such as "I'm Not Gloria," the actual and metaphoric become humorously mixed in the matter-of-fact return of a father from the grave to literally haunt his beleaguered  son. The father as psychological baggage and embodied ghost coexist amicably, until the fictively real ghost is undone by a pratfall and a sad memory.  It is in the title story, "The Man Who Beat Life," however, that the fantasied victory over "reality," and the tongue-in-cheek defeat of the therapeutic is accomplished.  The arc of the stories ends with the message that the struggles and loneliness of life can, at times, be overcome by unreasonable optimism.  In the end, there is a playful hope for the triumph of  human aspiration.   


BOB WOOD