Review

The Other Shulman

by Alan Zweibel

Shulman is stuck in a bit of a rut. He is not having a midlife
crisis, exactly; it is just that he and his wife are drifting
apart, his children are grown and gone, his business is not doing
so well, and he can't seem to keep the pounds off. The way he
figures it, he has been losing and gaining the same 30 pounds since
his bar mitzvah --- enough for a whole other Shulman. To put some
focus in his life and shed some weight, Shulman decides to train to
run the New York City Marathon. Here, at the crossroads of his
life, he must make decisions about who he wants to be and what he
wants to do. It is also here that he meets the other Shulman (T. O.
Shulman) in the flesh.

Alan Zweibel's latest, THE OTHER SHULMAN, is a hilarious and sweet
look at middle age and one man's choice to fight against mediocrity
and complacency. The 26 chapters in the book represent the 26 (.2)
miles of the race, and Shulman, as he runs around the city from
Staten Island to Central Park, thinks back to when the Other
Shulman, the fantasy Shulman, thin and more successful, was just
that --- a fantasy.

In training for the marathon, Shulman is forced to confront the
realities of his life, and not just his sad physical shape. He
meets Maria, a beautiful young woman who soon becomes his training
partner. What does his attraction to Maria say about his marriage?
His trainer, Coach Jeffrey, teaches Shulman about patience,
persistence and to actually enjoy running, not just to see it as a
means to an end. But will Shulman be able to call upon Coach
Jeffrey's wisdom during the race? And, most importantly, will
Shulman be victorious over his less than benevolent double, the
Other Shulman?

His first encounter with the Other Shulman occurs as Shulman is
running, lost in his own neurotic, wandering thoughts. Soon, he
sees another runner barreling down on him; he looks almost like a
mirror image. This Shulman is a bit thinner and decidedly more
confident, and he tries to run Shulman off the track. From that
point on there is a battle between the two Shulmans. The marathon
becomes a symbol of Shulman's successes and failures and especially
for the possibilities he can see taking shape in his future. Will
Shulman run himself to exhaustion, or run to a life filled with
happiness, success and contentment? Will he overcome years of doubt
and become the man he always had hoped he would be? Will there be a
happy ending for our Shulman?

Zweibel's novel is funny and charming. Shulman is a shlubby and
likable everyman, and along with the marathon bystanders in each of
the boroughs, we cheer for him to make it to the finish line in one
proverbial piece. The humor comes naturally to Zweibel, and his
one-liners and observations, which are hilarious and poignant,
usually hit the mark. But character development is not the strong
suit of this novel, and readers may be left wanting a bit more
depth.

Still, a book about a middle-aged, chubby stationary storeowner in
New Jersey who meets his doppelganger and has a secret alter-ego as
well ("Glue") and who runs a marathon through the city that shaped
his childhood, cannot be anything but recommendable. THE OTHER
SHULMAN is a smart and witty summer read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 14, 2011

The Other Shulman
by Alan Zweibel

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Villard
  • ISBN-10: 1400062667
  • ISBN-13: 9781400062669