Title: "Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love...

BOOK BRIEFS

September 11, 1994|By JUDITH B. ROSENFELD | JUDITH B. ROSENFELD,LOS ANGELES TIMES Title: The Mennyms Author: Sylvia Waugh Publisher: Greenwillow Books Length, price: 213 pages, $14

Title: "Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story"

Author: Alan Zweibel

Publisher: Villard

Length, price: 208 pages, $14.95

Writer Alan Zweibel and comic actress Gilda Radner were best friends for more than a decade before Radner died of cancer in 1989. Three years later, Mr. Zweibel, still trying to come to terms with his grief, wrote "Bunny Bunny," a witty, moving tribute to his old friend.

Beginning with their first words to each other on the set of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, "Bunny Bunny" chronicles a complex and loving relationship that almost, but never quite, turned into romance.

one scene, Radner calls Mr. Zweibel to come backstage two minutes before she is to go on for her one-woman show. " 'I'm happy for you,' " she says. " 'I was peering out at you guys and noticed that Robin [Mr. Zweibel's girlfriend] never looked prettier and that you never looked whiter, and I just knew you were engaged."

Mr. Zweibel's ambitious format -- the book is written entirely in dialogue -- has its strengths and weaknesses. Radner's wonderful sense of humor, kindness and intelligence shine through without ever being weighed down by sentimentality. However, there are many instances in which people say unrealistic things to explain the action around them. This trait seems forgivable, though, in this engaging book. It is hard to tell you what the members of the Mennym familare -- but they are definitely not your typical family. Joshua has a good, safe job as a night watchman until he loses it to automation; neighbor Miss Quigley makes pleasant, routine visits, but then returns to her home in the cupboard under the stairs; teen-ager Appleby thinks she knows everything, and sometimes she does know just what should be done. When they receive a letter from their landlord, Albert Pond in Australia, saying that he plans to visit them, they face disaster. It's not that the Mennyms are not desirable tenants; it's just that they are not quite human.

"They were not made of flesh and blood. They were just a whole, loving family of life-size rag dolls. They were living and walking and talking and breathing, but they were made of cloth and kapok." How they were made is told with great detail, and then it is up to the reader to imagine the rest. The reader does become very involved in their dilemma, as the intergenerational family strives to live a traditional life -- until Albert Pond's letter.

They manage to put the visit off, with a letter to Australia telling Mr. Pond that the family will all be away in Manitoba at a christening just when he intends to make his visit. That works for a while, and natural disaster delays the inevitable still further, but the meeting looms over the usual calm life of the family.

Sylvia Waugh plans sequels in which we will become very involved with the Mennyms.

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