Monday, October 06, 2008

Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier

Ian Frazier is one of the few writers upholding the brave old tradition of short funny essays -- Simon Rich is another -- that lasted from Thurber and Benchley and Perelman to Woody Allen, but hasn't been as strong lately.

Lamentations of the Father is his third collection of funny essays, after Dating Your Mom (1986) and Coyote V. Acme (1996), and it contains thirty-six pieces (most of them New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" size, and a large proportion of them from there, with others -- like the title piece -- from The Atlantic and other places).

It also has one of the most hideous covers I've seen in my nearly twenty years in publishing. Frazier isn't the most handsome man to begin with (no offense), is posed badly, and then the background has its own entirely separate set of aesthetic issues. One thing I can say: this is not a cover you can miss in the bookstore; you can't pretend that you didn't see it.

These are New Yorker-y pieces, so they tend to the wry and observational rather than being full of yucks and slapstick. (Though there's some lower-brow humor in here as well -- for instance, the several pieces about "the Cursing Mommy.") So some of these are a bit distanced; they can't be obvious jokes -- not for that audience -- and thus are occasionally a bit elliptical.

But I found most of this book at least worth smiling at, and a few pieces even got an audible chuckle out of me on the train, which is quite good. Frazier is both funny and smart, which should be celebrated.

(And, for a small taste of this book, I posted the first part of the title piece as my "Quote of the Week" last week.)

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