I bought Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin over thirty years ago at either the Goodwill or Salvation Army located on or near Queen Street West in Toronto. I seem to say this over and over: in spite of its brevity (at only 128 pages) I never read it until now. It is a slim book, where it seems that half the spine was printed onto the front cover. I did not enjoy Martin’s short stories and never laughed out loud during any of them. Perhaps they would have seemed funny had he delivered them as part of his stand-up act. The stories, almost all of them only two pages long, seemed unfinished. Thus there was a moment of life imitating art when I read “The Complete Works of Alfredo Francesi”:
“Alfredo Francesi was a man of few words, and fewer ideas. His works, consequently, are a sequence of rambling sentences that only occasionally find ideas to which to attach themselves.”
The story entitled “Sex Crazed Love Goddesses” had nothing to do with sex at all, but was merely a single-page story about buying postage stamps.
The only story I liked–yet still didn’t laugh at–was “Wrong Number”, reproduced below:
“One day I called someone up and got the wrong number. I apologized profusely but then realized just an apology was not enough. I offered some money as partial compensation and then threw in some stocks and bonds at the last minute. Then I thought, perhaps if I could take their address and send them everything I own, then take a journey to Tibet to acquire wisdom, I could then inform them of the truth, something money cannot buy. Naturally they were still indignant, but were at least convinced of my sincerity in wanting to make it right. They suggested that after I go to Tibet, I kill myself, thus offering my last breath as penance. This seemed slightly out of line, but not being a good businessman, I agreed.
“So now I’m in Tibet, standing on my head on a llama, thinking ’bout the day I got dat wrong number.”
So now I have to wonder: when this book came out (I read the revised edition) in 1979, how did it ever become a bestseller?