Jared Feldschreiber’s debut novella, Reckless Abandon, captures the joy of experiencing a creative breakthrough. In 1984 New York, theatre critic John Duggan dreams of producing a play starring Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen and Bob Dylan. The Suny Purchase alum wants to meet his heroes, but also wants to learn from them as well. In that sense, Reckless Abandon contrasts with modern celebrity culture and fans who celebrate social media acknowledgements (likes, retweets) rather than meaningful interactions. Duggan envisions a brilliant Western-themed stage production and takes a proactive approach when seeking out potential collaborators. In the process, the city of New York becomes a Reckless Abandon supporting character, one that inspires the protagonist to work harder while pursuing a creative “spectacle.” Throughout the novella’s 73 pages, Feldschreiber delivers clean prose with succinct phrasing, along with moving passages about the protagonist’s search for creative clarity.
Reckless Abandon begins with the first of several references to former NBA player Bernard King, who averaged nearly 33 points per game for the New York Knicks during the 1984-85 season. Duggan chats with his Russian-American friend, Dmitri, about about new projects, and states that he feels like “Bernard King on the open break.” Feldschreiber at once establishes a specific New York vibe while transitioning to the protagonist’s historical knowledge of Bob Dylan, a native Midwesterner who made his breakthrough in Manhattan during the early 60s. The playwright Duggan doesn’t reflect about Bobby D’s Big Apple background, but instead references his upbringing in Minnesota, stating “When Dylan came to New York, he basically was running away from his upper-middle class Jewish home in Duluth. I want to feel that journey too.” By steadily reinforcing Duggan’s motivations early on, Feldschreiber effectively sets up moments that involve his protagonist tracking down his heroes, and with a clear understanding of professional polish. Most of Reckless Abandon involves Duggan meeting with influential people in the NYC area, and trying to put himself in a position to succeed. If he shows up on The Purple Rose of Cairo set, then maybe he can meet Woody Allen. If he travels to Dublin for a Bob Dylan show, then perhaps the man from the North Country will take 10 minutes to chat. Duggan’s logic makes sense, but Reckless Abandon moves along too quickly at times.
For example, Duggan seeks the “ultimate interview” with New York business mogul Irving Mitchell Felt, and secures a meeting by having his friend Dmitri make a phone call (“Sure, I’ll call you in the morning after it’s arranged”). Just like that, the protagonist takes a major leap forward. Later, Duggan meets an Upper West Side woman named Jennifer McClure, and the three-page Chapter IV ends with an abrupt shift from the pair’s movie talk to a sex scene that feels a bit awkward given the details provided: “The couple consummated their relationship, and spent a good evening together.” By Chapter VI, Duggan visits The Purple Rose of Cairo set and meets a gaffer who curiously agrees to deliver a spec script to Woody Allen. There’s also a crew member who spots Duggan on set and makes a surprising statement to the stranger: “Your moment is now, hombre. I can see it in your eyes.” All of these moments align with the protagonist’s practical way of doing business, but some of the dialogue doesn’t quite feel natural. However, there’s a sense of magical realism that shines through in Reckless Abandon, almost like the protagonist Duggan could be roaming about 1984 Manhattan in a dream state.
Overall, Reckless Abandon is worth a read because of the creative concepts that Feldschreiber explores. He immerses the reader into a specific time and place, and contrasts Duggan’s optimism with Dmitri’s skepticism after having his creative dreams crushed. Upon reading Feldschreiber’s novella, the protagonist seems like a figure from D. A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back – a 1967 documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour through England, which includes comedic and confrontational moments involving people who merely want to be close to Dylan, if only to better understand his perspective as an artist. As a character, Reckless Abandon’s Duggan thematically aligns with a real-life partygoer in Don’t Look Back who engages with Dylan and refuses to be patronized. In Feldschreiber’s debut novella, he builds to a 1984 meeting between his protagonist and a fictionalized version of Dylan; a final act passage that feels incredibly authentic and underlines the “moral revelation” aspect of the work.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and a Screen Rant staff writer.