Thursday, 14 April 2011

Two Montreal Boys Duddy Kravitz and Dov Charney: Which One Is the Beautiful Loser?

The New York Times today has a profile of Dov Charney, the founder and driving force behind American Apparel. To understand him, "he suggests they read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, a 1959 novel by the Canadian author Mordecai Richler," the article says.

"Duddy is an ambitious Jew from Montreal who is obsessed with money and power; he suffers a nervous breakdown and declares bankruptcy, then takes money from a friend to buy land he covets. Mr. Charney, 42, is also ambitious, Jewish and from Montreal, and said he sees in Duddy a kindred spirit. Like himself, Mr. Charney explained, “Duddy is trying to be somebody.”

Interesting literary reference, nice to think that Charney, despite being dyslexic (his father architect Morris Charney is quoted in the story as saying that "practiced out of my home so I could keep an eye on him") maybe read the book all the way through.

But his statement is proof that it takes two to make a book: the writer and the reader, who brings to the reading all his and her cultural and personal baggage. A good book is one that can be read with pleasure and/or profit by widely divergent people. And certainly that is the case with Duddy. Kravitz and Charney come from different layers of Montreal society, with Dov's desire to be "somebody" arising from a desire to set himself off in a family of architects, artists, successful businessmen and writers. Duddy, on the other hand, is poor and doesn't want to stay that way.

Big, telling differences. It would be interesting to know what Charney thinks of that other son of Montreal: Leonard Cohen, also a product of the tony Westmount enclave. Certainly he might find Beautiful Losers instructive reading too, as he faces a passle of law suits for sexual harassement begun recently by former workers.

No comments: