Book Report: The Gingerbread Lady by Neil Simon (1971)

Sometimes, when I’m at a loss about what to read next, I kick the can down the road a bit by selecting a play. Modern plays are pretty easy reads; semi-modern plays (like Ibsen) are heavier fare, but they buy me a couple days before I have to pick another book; but classics (like Shakespeare or Jonson) can take as long as a short book. So when I was at a loss and didn’t want to simply pick up another paperback, I picked up this Neil Simon play. I’ve read a bunch by him in the past (I Ought To Be In Pictures in 2006; Biloxi Blues, Chapter Two, and Broadway Bound in 2007; Lost in Yonkers in 2008; and Laughter on the 23rd Floor in 2009). So I expected a lightweight comedy.

This book is not a lightweight comedy; it’s more heavy dramatic fare. It centers around a recovering alcoholic returning from rehab to her New York apartment, where her remaining friends are an aging actor who’s starting to know he’s not going to make it and an aging woman holding onto her youth and beauty as much as she can. When the gingerbread lady’s seventeen-year-old daughter returns, she has hopes for making as best of a life that she can sober and, she suspects, somewhat boring. When her friends’ problems all erupt at a birthday party, she backslides and has to deal with the aftermath.

It all takes place in a single set–the woman’s apartment–and deals with a milieu and a set of characters I can only imagine through fiction. It doesn’t end with any resolution, nor with any weddings or corpses. It’s a very 1970s kind of thing, probably taking on a slightly taboo subject seriously and pointing out the ongoing nature of life. Not bad, per se, but not compelling. A quick read, though, as it’s only a play, and it doesn’t dismiss the affection I feel for Neil Simon’s plays, however little I actually relate to them.

Books mentioned in this review:

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