Before he became famous with The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty was largely a comedy writer. There’s a certain vaudevillian flair to all his work, but it’s the sort of vaudeville that powers the absurdist despair of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot; one-liners and gags are just another way to deal with the inevitability of death. The difference is, there’s a core of faith and optimism at the heart of Blatty’s writing. Horror exists, as do evil and the monsters who perpetrate it, but there’s also God in his heaven, purpose, and at least the possibility of justice. Crazy strips away the unpleasantness; what little suspense there is comes from the fantastical mystery at the story’s core. It’s cheery, and not much else.
The main problem is that as a novel, Crazy makes a pretty good short story. It contains all the ingredients of a longer book: Joey El Bueno, a screenwriter whiling away his days in a nursing home, is writing his memoirs, sort of. Instead of telling the story of his life, he’s reliving certain key moments of his childhood in 1941 New York. His father is a hard-working single parent with a soft heart, and Joey’s pals are a comically exaggerated lot, although few of them stand out clearly. Of those, the most important—really, the only important—is Jane Bent, a baffling freckled girl who indulges in moral advice and the occasional act of magic. Unsure who Jane is, or if she’s anyone at all, Joey remembers when she came into his life, and how that changed his world.
Which is all well and good. The problem is that Blatty never focuses on any subject long enough to give any of this much weight beyond the occasional punchline. Joey’s narration, with its endlessly digressive sentences, is entertaining, but it short-circuits any attempts at creating a sense of place. Characters move in and out of view as though their names were sufficient to make them interesting. There’s no depth to the tale—for all the time-jumping, this moves in a straight line to a heartwarming, slightly hollow conclusion. If Crazy were shorter, the lack of coherency might’ve been charming; longer, and the scenes might’ve connected more. As is, it’s a diversion that’s never more than slight.