Well before Philip Roth in Portnoy’s Complaint turned the special predicament of the American Jew into a long psychiatric joke, Friedman told the original story and got the first laugh. Stern is the story of a Jewish family displaced from the city to the suburbs, and more particularly, of the mild-mannered Every’man of the title, under siege in his new home, set upon by voracious caterpillars as well as shades of bigotry that range from the genteel snub to outright anti-Semitism. With masterly procrastination, Stern sets out to avenge one such incident at the hands of a beer-drinking neighbor.
Balefully funny, darkly antic, the genius of Bruce Jay Friedman lies in weaving a light but durable web of laughter over the abyss of contemporary American life. Originally published in 1962, Stern is a high comedy of enduring relevance.