A recurring favourite was a piece of dialogue lifted from a scene in Duddy Kravitz. Drunk Aunt Ida tells Duddy: “The human personality is like an iceberg. Nine tenths of it remains submerged.” Of course, our teachers chose this quote because it’s something all teenagers feel: misunderstood. So, predictably, each year, earnest speeches of the you-don’t-know-me variety proliferated. We applauded our classmates and felt better about ourselves.
We had no idea where these words came from, so neatly pared down and packaged as generic “inspirational quote.” We didn’t know, but our teachers did. They knew that Duddy, by way of response, thought, Ver gerharget! or drop dead!
They were making fun of us.
Appropriately, of course, because Richler was famous for making fun. The fragile teenage psyche certainly didn’t escape his mockery. He also ridiculed Pierre Trudeau, the Jewish community, the Church, the Montreal police, and other writers. Byron was a "sicko," Dylan Thomas "a schnorrer born" (that's a sponger, for those of you who'd like to add another Yiddish word to your vocabulary and help keep a dying language alive - alas! alas!). Celebrated writers in general are "outrageous liars, philanderers, drunks, druggies, unsuitable babysitters, plagiarists, psychopaths, cowards, indifferent dads or moms and bad credit risks." He also gently mocked his friends, his family, and above all, himself. Have you read Barney’s Version? (Have you at least seen the movie? I missed the one weekend it played in Fredericton because I was occupied complaining about how the local cinema never shows the good movies. But my friend Jacob went to high school with the lady who plays Barney’s daughter and I saw her at a bar one time. Just saying.)
I love these writers because their writing is iconoclastic. Sendak says that he refuses “to cater to the bull — of innocence”: the children in his books are as “ferocious, inventive and troublesome as they are in real life.” Richler just had everybody wringing their hands. I love these writers because their utter irreverence is so calculated. They are smart, incisive, funny, and totally uncompromising.