The Idiots

Coen also gets into trouble when he moves away from comedy. "I Killed Phil Shapiro" contains descriptions of growing up Jewish in Minneapolis, and while there are some fresh moments, they are undermined by the overall earnestness of the story. "The Boys," which tells of an emotionally remote father who takes his sons camping, suffers from the same attempt at seriousness. In both stories, the more sober moments reek of good intentions. It's like the end of a big Hollywood comedy, when suddenly the laughs evaporate and the feel-good message of self-acceptance and brotherhood is tied to a brick and thrown through your front window.

Both "I Killed Phil Shapiro" and "The Boys" also lack an emotional center, a problem that surfaces throughout the book. This soullessness is one of the prices of Coen's highly ironic style, and introduces a paradox: The same reader who is detached enough to enjoy Gates of Eden is unlikely to find any deeper satisfaction in it.

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