Tag Archives: Funny

Heroes of the Frontier: Preview of Dave Eggers’ New Novel (That should have been a short story; Or scrapped)

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I am a Dave Eggers completist. I think because I really, really loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I keep reading everything he writes hoping to recapture the joy of that first read (why did I love AHWOSG so much? Probably because it was the first thing I’d read like it. A like every first encounter aren’t we all always trying to get back to recapture that moment of intoxicating newness?).

But with Heroes of the Frontier the fierce loyalty of fresh love has faded to embarrassment to be (seen as) still attached to the overly confident novel, unaware of its lackluster performance and reliant on the coattails of previous success. But I want to love Eggers, and so I read for kernels to warrant continued affection: Eggers writes good comedy. Josie, a former-dentist, has quasi-kidnapped her children and taken them into the wilds of Alaska so that she can find meaning. Some funny scenes ensue. Some smart writing.

But given the sole source of conflict in the novel is Josie’s uncertainty about whether her life has, or could have, or ever had, meaning (and whether children might be what we all pin our hopes on for meaning, but find never live up to those expectations), Eggers has a challenge in maintaining interest. There’s only so much hand wringing, soul searching while drinking wine and staring at the stars that one reader can tolerate. (Especially when it’s a reprieve, almost entirely, of the hand wringing of Your Fathers, Where Are They?) Which is to say the psychological conflict and drama doesn’t have enough complexity or resonance to do much but bore. Loathe as I am to suggest that short stories might have any merit at all, I have to say I think this 300 page beast of different campsites and highway driving could be suitably pared down to a couple of nights in a tent and the same realization: we make meaning in what we do and who we do it with, and it’s never going to come from money or things or external validation (alas).

The book hits shelves later in July. If you, like me, can’t resist Eggers (like you can’t resist Atwood), you know you’ll read it anyway, so go, read it, and let me know if I’ve gotten it all wrong. If you can resist the siren call, then go see the movie for A Hologram for the King and let that be your Eggers fix. Plus Tom Hanks. And let me know whether the movie is any good.

Want other Eggers reviews? See Zeitoun, the Circle,  earlier novels predate the blog.

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, Worst Books

The Family Fang

Oh I loved Kevin Wilson’s *The Family Fang*! Funny, whimsical, smart. The premise: two performance/conceptual artists have two children A and B who they raise as part of their art. The children and parents perform their disruptive, chaotic art as the children grow-up. Once grown, the children abandon their parents/the art to pursue their respective lives as an actor and writer. A split timeline allows the reader to follow the present of the two children (Annie and Buster) as they grapple with failures in their lives and the disappearance of their parents as well as the past lives of their art pieces/growing up.

The interwoven scenes and the unfolding plot let the reader explore – through humour, the absurd and a reworking of the classic take on the modern American family – what it means to make art, what constitutes commitment and trust, what we owe our parents/children and the limits of familial love.

A terrific read.

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Filed under Fiction, Funny, Prize Winner

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole: Mediocre

Loathe as I am to say anything negative about Adrian Mole (being, as I am, a lifelong reader and admirer of Sue Townsend’s work) I found the “Lost Diaries” a bit of a stretch in terms of plot and tone. It wasn’t as funny as I’m used to and seemed more like a franchise grab than like anything really innovative or exciting was happening with Adrian’s character. Disappointing.

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Funny

Bossypants: Not about being funny

         

Tina Fey’s Bossypants is not about making the reader laugh. To clarify: the book has funny parts, an occasionally sarcastic tone, and intentional jokes; however, the purpose of the book (if I can be so bold as to discern it) is not about the reader having a chuckle, or about noticing how witty Tina Fey is; rather, the book is about – and sometimes cumbersomely so – institutional and systemic sexism (and, yes, I’m aware this sentence has too many clauses).

An odd place to begin a review, you might be thinking, with a description of what the book is not about. Well, in telling folks that I was reading Bossypants (a gift from S.) I heard from a few people that “Tina Fey is not funny,” or “the book is not funny.” Well, that’s swell, and perhaps true (defend “what is funny” – or get N. to defend “what is funny” and we’ll talk), but it is also totally beside the point.

The tone of a book – whether satirical, whimsical, condescending, depressed, or didactic – is often intended to reflect, compliment or contrast with the content. (see in the previous sentence an example of didactic – or condescending? – tone). Whether or not a book succeeds in being “funny,” the content of the book still remains open for questioning and consideration. And so leaving aside the contentious (and not altogether productive) conversation about the relative hilarity of Fey’s humour, I’d like to suggest this as a book to read for its engagement with institutional and systemic sexism.

Fey’s self-conscious reflections on the decisions she’s made as a woman ask readers to consider the expectations working women place on themselves and on one another. The book’s explicit call for readers to reconsider supposedly “finished” debates about opportunities for women to advance in the workplace are complimented by thoughtful engagements with “continuing” conversations about work-life balance, unrealistic maternal expectations, and gendered employment opportunities.

Occasionally Fey references personal discomfort with classist, racist and heteronormative assumptions that underpin or have underpinned her decisions, and I do wish greater space had been given over to these reflections. Given that the book is an autobiography, and so about a white woman’s experience in the entertainment industry, I don’t mean to suggest Fey ought to explore the plight of all women of all races, classes, and sexual orientations. Instead, I had hoped that in the moments when Fey does consider her relationship to other women – I’m thinking here of the chapter addressing her nanny “babysitter” – she might have turned to the self-reflection that characterized her engagement with her high school gay friends, rather than glossing the relationship as one that makes her “uncomfortable.”

That said, her exploration of the ways her gender has impacted her work and personal lives through specific, personal and poignant examples was engaging. I did not always agree with her assessment (see the chapter on photoshopping), but I was never meant to agree with her. The book aimed – I think – to raise questions for the reader about the supposedly finished and unfinished conversations that surround white working women in North America, and it succeeded. Whether I laughed or not? I’m not telling, because it really (really) doesn’t matter.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, American literature, Book I'll Forget I Read, Funny