Barney Panofsky tells his life story, complete with three wives, three children, and a possibly murdered best friend. Barney Panofsky is a hard living, curmudgeonly television producer, and “Barney's Version” is the story of his life's successes and failures, professional and personal. Married three times and now facing his own mortality combined with Alzheimer's disease, Barney has a lot of story to tell.
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When we meet Barney, he is living with his best friend Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch in Rome. He meets poet and artist Clara, and when she becomes pregnant, they wed. Sadly, the infant is stillborn, and Barney discovers that he wasn't the father. He leaves Clara and she kills herself. Later, Clara becomes a feminist icon, and Barney acquires fame by association.
Barney returns home to Montreal, where he is introduced to the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family. We never learn her name, but he marries her. At the wedding, Barney meets Miriam, and it is love at first sight for him. Despite his married state, he pursues her, sending flowers and cards, and declaring his undying love. In the meantime, Boogie comes to visit after a stint in rehab, and Barney and his current wife take him to their lake house. Shockingly, Barney finds his wife and Boogie in bed together. He has a drunken argument with Boogie and passes out on the dock, as Boogie falls into the lake. When he awakes, Boogie is missing, and Barney is suspected of killing him. He is arrested for the murder, but is released, partly because no body was found. Through the rest of the book, Barney continues to hope that Boogie will show up again.
Barney takes the opportunity of his wife's adultery to divorce her, and he is finally able to convince Miriam to submit to his attentions. Eventually, he marries Miriam and they have three children. Barney is happy with Miriam, well, as happy as he is capable of being, and they are married for thirty years. However, on one of their visits to the lake house, they meet Blair, who shares some professional interests with Miriam. Jealous, Barney sleeps with an actress from his television show, and when he tells Miriam, she divorces him. Miriam eventually does marry Blair, which accelerates the progressive dementia that has started to plague Barney.
Barney and Miriam's children are now grown, and they take a role in caring for their father as he slides into dementia. His love for Miriam remains strong, and he asks her to consider being buried to him when he dies, even though she is now married to Blair. She agrees to consider it. In the meantime, Boogies body is finally found in the forest near the Lake House. His fatal injuries are consistent with a sky diving accident, which makes sense later when Barney and his children see a water bomber land on the lake and reload with water for fighting forest fires. Poor drunken Boogie was picked up out of the lake and dropped on the forest below. Barney dies, and Miriam visits his grave, where both of their names are marked.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the unreliability of Barney the narrator. Not only is he a person who is comfortable stretching the truth, but he is struggling with dementia as he tells his life story. The reader is engrossed in his story while knowing that it might not be completely accurate.
Best scene in story:
I loved when Barney gave in to his love of tap dancing, and shut all of the curtains at his home, put his tap shoes on, and gave a huge performance in front of a mirror for an imaginary audience.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked Barney's certainty of his love for Miriam, not only when he first meets her, but as he is dying and she is married to another man.