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Stillbirth of a Guffaw

SLEEP TILL NOON, By Max Shulman, Doubleday & Co., 191 pp., $2.

By Andrew E. Norman

Max Shulman has written another book. This bland statement of fact may leave the reader in any one of three states of mind. For the reader may have read and laughed hysterically at Shulman's first three books; he may have read them and laughed hardly at all; or he may never have heard of this midwestern humorist.

If you read and enjoyed one or all of "Barefoot Boy with Cheek," "The Feather Merchants," and "The Zebra Derby," reread one or all of them. If you haven't read any of them, read one. If you have met Shulman and not been convulsed, forget the whole thing.

For "Sleep Till Noon" is far inferior to the author's earlier works. The plot, or rather the gimmick to which the sequence of events is tenuously affixed, is an imbecile's effort to follow the advice of his father: "'Get rich, boy,' he would say, filling his corncob pipe with cigarette buts I had had collected for him during the day. 'Get rich, boy. Then sleep till noon and screw 'em all.'"

This fellow runs into an old friend at a high-class party. "Have you made it?" he asks. "He nodded. 'America,' he said simply. I grasped him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. "Tell me, George, are you corrupted?' 'Mercy me, no,' he replied. 'I am daily nobler.' 'Oh, happy day!' I cried joyously. My worries were over; money did not corrupt. Now, without reservations, I could begin the long climb to riches. 'Tell me about your long, painful climb to riches,' I said. 'I married it,' said George."

The hero follows this example with remarkable alacrity -- within three hours, to be exact--and gains wealth, security, and everything he could desire, except a husband's privileges.

Shulman relies on his peculiar and by now jaded stylistic quirks for his particular brand of humor. The present volume opens: "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the biggest adventure of my life . . ." Chapter 4 consists in full of the following gem: "Mother was reading in the living room when I came into the house. 'Mother! Halloa! I have news!' I cried. Mother looked up from the Racing Form. 'Yeah?' she said. 'I'm in love,' I declared. 'With a girl?' I nodded. "Thank God,' said Mother." A three-star side-splitter opens another chapter: "I was so exhausted after my amok that I slept around the clock. Although sleeping in this circular position was uncomfortable. I managed to put in almost eight hours."

A cynic might call this corn.

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