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by Ian Frazier

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-374-60307-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A short, bumpy ride through the humorist’s dry, deadpan sensibilities.

Perhaps it’s comparing almonds to walnuts, but Frazier’s latest, a hit-and-miss foray into absurdist humor, is not in the class of his much-admired travel books. The author makes a few penetrating satirical stabs at contemporary follies and offers spasms of cleverness, yet too many of the three-page ditties are like underinflated balloons that fizzle out, and the savagely funny pieces only serve to underscore the collection’s overall unevenness. However, the idea of climate change in Hades (“The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium”) is certainly delicious, and “In My Defense,” a survey of assorted heresies perpetrated by a scoutmaster who has lost his faith, is amusingly clever. There’s also a wry Shakespearean parody on the rigors of parking thy horse and some chuckles to be had with the title piece, in which Frazier sells the extraction rights to vast reserves of natural gas found in his head. When he is critiquing artificial intelligence or advocating for mummies in what is otherwise a golden age of zombies, the theater of the absurd is taken to brave new worlds—consider Jane Austen, “who featured zombies in all her exquisitely wrought nineteenth-century comedies of manners.” One can’t deny that great opening lines like, “I was walking down the street one afternoon, when I suddenly lost funding” belong in a pantheon of sorts, and the idea of Victor Laszlo writing a blog is amusing. Some may cock an eyebrow at the slyly witty “The British Museum of Your Stuff,” wherein larceny and scholarship go hand in hand, or enjoy Frazier’s exercise in anti-travel planning. But there are also plenty of misses, including “Etymology of Some Common Typos,” making this a minor work in the author’s oeuvre. For more substantial essay-length pieces, check out Hogs Wild (2017).

For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.