(A lot of Thurber was chewing gum for the eyes--and there's nothing wrong with that, since he was a genius at it; Frazier isn't.) Also, the funniest piece in this book by far, the title piece, which is a father sternly lecturing his toddler on table manners, in the format of the King James translation of the Book of Leviticus, is put at the beginning, which is a mistake. I could also identify with "If Memory Doesn't Serve," where he admits to mixing up similar-sounding names or similar-looking people, since I do the same thing and rarely can tell Sarah Jessica Parker or Jennifer Anniston apart, either. Frazier used, and reused, the conceit of mock articles, news reports, and the like.
Don't publishers take any lesson from producers of old vinyl albums, who always put something uptempo but NOT the best song first, and then leave the absolutely best cut for the beginning of side B? It is possible to approach the topic of fundamentalist bigotry with humor--Jon Stewart and The Onion do it on a daily basis--but this piece fails. I could also id Book of mostly-satirical essays, some of which are laugh-out-loud funny and some of which miss me. Having read On the Rez a few years ago, I was excited to read Ian Frazier's newest book of essays. Done well, this is Monty Python's Flying Circus or The Onion.
Video essays have flourished in recent times, and the best ones can even eclipse a lot of traditional documentaries in their production and intelligence.
On top of recommending Polygon’s own staff of video craftspeople, here are 10 of the best video essays of 2018, a shortcut down the rabbit hole of intriguing work on You Tube.
Past winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor; author of the nonfiction bestsellers Great Plains, Family, and On the Rez; contributor to The New Yorker, Outside, and other magazines, Frazier is the greatest writer of our (or indeed of any) age.
I'd never thought of Ian Frazier as a humorist, since I associated his name much more consciously with books like "Family" and "The Rez" than with his occasional pieces in The New Yorker and elsewhere.
Not all the pieces in this volume are from this template, but enough are that one notices and in the space of this thin volume it all starts to sound tired.
This is chewing gum for the eyes, which is what "Shouts and Murmurs" in The New Yorker is supposed to be; you're supposed to chuckle, maybe even snort or guffaw, and then turn the page to the next article and not remember it five minutes later.
Examples from this volume: a quote from Newsweek wondering aloud how much of the movie "Gladiator" is historically accurate, followed by a deadpan essay on how much of a Daffy Duck cartoon is accurate; or quotes about a coyote loose in Central Park, followed by a parody of "Catcher in the Rye" as narrated by a coyote wandering around Central Park.
Thurber used this template sparingly, and always brilliantly, and possibly invented it, but there has been an explosion of it.