Noogie's Time To Shine by Jim Knipfel

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I have to admit I was moved to read Noogie’s Time to Shine by the admittedly shallow reason that I found the cover art and the name Noogie interesting.  Who would want to read a story about someone named “Noogie Krapczack?”  So I pulled it off the TBR pile and dove in.

As you might expect from someone with that name, nickname actually, things aren’t going to well for Noogie.  Starting with the fact that everyone insists on calling him by his childhood nickname.  He is living at home with his cranky mother and working a dull job stocking ATM for a company called PiggyBank.

Despite a degree from NYU in film making, Noogie doesn’t even watch movies – his mother forbids it – let alone make them.  But his life begins to change when he basically stumbles upon the idea of slowly siphoning off cash from the machines he is supposed to fill.

Surprisingly, it takes a while for the folks at PiggyBank to catch on, but eventually an accountant figures out that something is wrong. When the president of the company calls Noogie to try and get to the bottom of it, he panics and hits the road with the money – nearly $5 million – a suitcase, and his Siamese cat Dillinger.  What follows is a rather odd ball road trip as Noogie drives from New Jersey to Florida trying to figure out exactly what he should do next and thinking back on the turns his life has taken.

Noogies Time to Shine is an oddly charming and humourous story of a bumbling loser who pulls off an amazing caper only to find himself asking “what now?”  But despite this charm it runs out of steam and ends with a confusing change of perspective.

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Knipfel does a good job of letting Noogie tell his own story.  The details of his life (his alcoholic father, film school degree, etc.) are worked in slowly and naturally.  There is a dry sense of humor as Noogie describes his interactions with his mother, co-workers, and those he meets along the road.  He knows deep down that his life is in the crapper but his ability to steal that kind of money gives his ego just enough boost to allow him to believe things are going to change.

The lovable loser is a familiar character but the ATM caper and the caffeine pill fueled road trip make for novel setting.  The problem becomes what to do once the story is set up and on its way.  Here is how PW describes it:

The book’s first half traces Noogie’s haphazard flight through unremarkable American towns and has an oddball charm: the possibility that Knipfel’s sad creature might have gotten away with such a simple, substantial crime provides real renegade pleasure. In the second half, however, Knipfel shifts focus to the cops and FBI agents trying to track Noogie down: their crews feel thin and underrealized in comparison. Nevertheless, Knipfel’s talent for empathizing with the underdog, evident is his earlier work, makes Noogie’s adventures poignant and funny.

Kirkus, however, is a little harsher:

Unfortunately, Knipfel has no more idea than his protagonist where to head from here, as both Noogie and the reader quickly find themselves “getting a little bored with this ‘on the lam’ business.” Noogie thinks his escape will make his life as exciting as a movie, but nobody appears to be chasing him. Whether out of ineptitude or desperation, he seems to do everything he can to draw the sort of attention that might result in his capture, leaving a $40 tip for a two-buck meal, spinning preposterous stories about his background, trading his van in for one exactly like it (with the same plates), heading for Florida where he knows they’re looking for him. The novel’s second half (following an “intermission” of 16 pages) features a significant plot twist that throws the narrative chronology out of whack and makes the reader care even less about Noogie than before. Noogie’s shine dims pretty quickly.

I think both are accurate in that the narrative runs out of steam and that the second half is a disjointed change of perspective and chronology, but I am closer to PW than to Kirkus as to the degree this ruins the book as a whole.

I found Knipfel’s writing to be strong and the understated humor entertaining enough to make the work worthwhile.  Noogie’s story made me smile even if I was a little puzzled by the ending. 

One possible solution to this dilemma might have been to turn the novel into two related novellas with each one telling the story of the caper from a different perspective.  The first from Noogie’s the second from the law enforcement investigation side.  This might have resulted in two quality stories and solved the problem of formally weaving the two perspectives together.  But the editors at Virgin, and I am assuming Knipfel, obviously thought differently

The novel has its flaws, but it also has its charms.  So if you enjoy stories about affable losers, or oddball capers,  with a dry, if a little corny, sense of humor you might enjoy Noogie’s Time To Shine.

UPDATE: I mean to add this yesterday, but forgot.  If you are a movie buff you will get an extra kick out of Noogie as his time on the run is populated with references to movie characters and plots.  Not bieng a movie person much of this went over my head.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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