Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Hip, Funny, Irreverent Take on the City of Angels

G.J. Prager’s The Lesson Plan chronicles the story of Robert Klayman, a substitute high school teacher in Los Angeles who is facing a mid-life crisis after failing to achieve any hopes of a high salary, successful career, or life; this is a man who never got his “piece of the pie.”  Klayman “got down to business” and “thought up a career path you can’t find in one of those self-help guides at the local bookstore,” making the decision to become a private detective.  

Although it is an overtly suspenseful detective story, interwoven is the story of a mid-life crisis and portrait of life in Los Angeles. Prager’s observations are startlingly insightful, and through Klayman’s thoughts and musings, readers are left with deeper messages about life and humanity, for example:  “Life can play clever tricks on us mortals who wait desperately for dreams to come true, realizing only too late that it’s an end game and much too short at that.  Reaching middle age without accumulating a formidable bank account can leave a man bitter and emasculated, ruminating on every lost opportunity that ever came his way.”  Klayman stumbles through life, trying on careers, personas, and women—all in an attempt to find a deeper meaning and a sense of self. With each new job, Klayman tries to “find himself,” adopting personas that range from Humphrey Bogart to Jay Gatsby.

Prager offers perspectives on life in Los Angeles through his astute assessments, revealed through the musings and conversations of Klayman, who ruminates that it is a “cold hard fact that a man’s self-respect starts at around two hundred grand a year in the City of Angels,” his sardonic comment that he joined “AA… Actors Anonymous,” and his reflections that he lives in a “mindless” city where he is “just going through the motions” and “Everyone’s grabbing a piece of the pie and leaving me with nothing but crumbs.”  Prager interweaves Albert Hammond’s cynical lyrics to “It Never Rains in California” with the thoughts of Klayman, another broken Californian—which inevitably becomes the theme song readers will associate with the hero.

Klayman gets swept up investigating a criminal drug ring that is working out of the Los Angeles Unified School District, following a teacher, Ms. Briggs, who is murdered one week subsequent to her request to be transferred to another school.  Klayman believes Ms. Briggs came too close to the truth for the comfort of the well-respected man who lies at the center of the intrigue.  The Lesson Plan offers both an intriguing plot and the artistic rendering of a man flailing in his mid-life crisis, seeking desperately for a meaningful identity.  

Through his deep assessments of humanity and the city of Los Angeles, Prager offers readers insights and themes that are thought provoking and lend to the strength of the novel, coming to speak for both a generation and a city.

G.J. Prager currently lives in Los Angeles. A New York native, he's worked as an actor in film and on the stage, and teaches drama and literature at a Los Angeles high school. 'The Lesson Plan' is his first novel.

Acting Career

During the 1980’s, Prager worked in New York in the off off Broadway productions of ‘Beirut,’ ‘Line,’ ‘The Quare Fellow,’ and ‘Dial M For Murder.” In Los Angeles he co-starred as ‘Phil’ in ‘Hurlyburly,’ a play by Tony award winner David Rabe. Robert Koehler in the Los Angeles Times wrote of Prager’s performance – “There’s an immediate aura of devastation that hangs around Jerry Prager’s Phil”...Prager’s portrayal of Phil “makes for a  truly wonderful performance to witness. At times the whole drama is in Prager’s body, the ego and id duking it out to the finish.”

Prager went on to star in the Los Angeles premier of Rabe’s ‘Those the River Keeps.” The L.A. Weekly wrote “Prager’s performance carries the evening...”

Film Career

In 1984 Prager starred in an indie comedy called ‘Heaven Only Knows.’ He played a jaded stand-up comedian on a weekend respite in upstate New York who falls in love with a female seminarian on a mission to become an Episcopalian priest. In 1989, he played a businessman in a sci-fi movie called ‘The Suckling,’ a cult favorite these days, noted for being on some critic’s list of worst sci-fi movies. In 2010, Prager co-starred in a full length indie called ‘Notes From the New World.’ The film is adapted from a Doestoyevsky novella, and it is currently making the rounds of film festivals around the globe. It has already won best adaptive screenplay and best suspense movie in two different festivals across Europe.

Writing Career

G.J. Prager began his writing career in 2001 when he began work on ‘The Lesson Plan.’ He is currently writing a sequel to it, and has completed the manuscript for a coming of age novel called, ‘Street Shine,’ that takes place in New York in the late nineteen sixties.

The following is a review by Grady Harp, one of the top 50 reviewers for
“G.J. Prager is a name to watch. THE LESSON PLAN may be his first novel but it is so successfully written that it suggests we have a new burgeoning talent among us! On the surface this novel seems to be a first person narrated story shared by a frustrated Robert Klayman who is unemployed, living from paycheck to paycheck by serving as a substitute teacher in Santa Monica, California to pay the rent in a shambles of an apartment he shares with his faithful cohort dog Homer, unattached to a significant other and ever obsessed with physical attractions/encounters, whose dream it is to become a Private Investigator. But there is so much more. 

At story's beginning Klayman is working an assignment for one detective Cal Keller - following a blonde woman who Klayman succeeds in tracing only to be conked out when he discovers her dead, bloody body. Cal dismisses Klayman for a botched case forcing Klayman to continue his substitute of a life as an oncall teacher replacement. But Klayman's school jobs happen to introduce him to a fellow substitute teacher Sheila with whom he not only finally relates but also beds, only to be asked by the woman to drive to Arizona to deliver a package to her son who has been taken from her by her ex-husband. This leads Klayman into a quagmire of new problems - drugs, a shooting, being chased by police - until he escapes back to Santa Monica and the presumed boring quiet of his substitute life only to have eyes for a voluptuous student Maria who he involves in his pursuing a discovery that there is a drug ring active in the school system. It is this back and forth slamming from the boring life of a substitute teacher enhanced or compounded with an almost inadvertent entry in the role of a PI that drives this little novel home. 

Yes, this is a solid and well constructed story that once started makes the reader stay with it until the end (even an all-nighter in this reader's case!). But what the too brief synopsis does not reveal is a writer who happens to be one of the best to describe the Southern California life - weather, traffic on the freeway, loose livers, drugs and other digressions, and the apparent inability to follow a dream successfully. In the author's words: 'Life can play clever tricks on us mortals who wait desperately for dreams to come true, realizing only too late that it's an end game and much too short at that. Reaching middle age without accumulating a formidable bank account can leave a man bitter and emasculated, ruminating on every lost opportunity that ever came his way. Nothing I ever did made me money; lady luck's a discriminating bitch that won't invite just anyone up to her room.' And in addition to being a painter of landscape and figurative canvases as well as anyone writing today he maintains an extraordinarily fine-tuned sense of humor, no matter how desperate a situation he is describing. Readers will attach themselves to this social malaprop and see the madness of the world through his distorted vision, identifying with those contemporary frustrations and maladjustments he somehow survives, and stand and root for him all the way: there is a dollop of Robert Klayman in each of us - at least in Southern California. Think of his circle: Christopher Isherwood, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Matt Groening, Evelyn Waugh - and add a comedy vein of gold. Welcome G.J.Prager!”

- Grady Harp, April 11

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