Humour with a lesson,
This review is from: Fraud: Essays (Paperback)Bear with me while I start a review of David Rakoff by talking about David Sedaris. It's relevant. When I first read David Sedaris, I got the impression that I had inadvertently picked up a toned-down true-life confessional instead of a humour book; having been raised on Dave Barry, it was hard for me to accept that this sort of low-key subtlety could be funny, and I confess I was disappointed. After a little time had passed and I had got the idea that Sedaris wasn't going to make me topple from my chair with laughter, I read a few of his essays again with an eye for the quieter humour, and I liked it much more.
Now to David Rakoff. The connexion is not a tenuous one; there's a somewhat ambiguous quote from David Sedaris on the front cover, and we're clearly meant to buy the writings of one because we enjoy the work of the other. (The quote says David Rakoff ``passes himself off'' as a funnyman, which I think is meant to be in keeping with the theme but comes off as a bit of a backhanded compliment.) Indeed, as many of the other reviewers here seem to have pointed out already, there's also a strong stylistic similarity, and it takes a similar eye for low-key rather than guffawing knee-slapping humour to appreciate it. The only problem is that Rakoff seems to want to drive home to us that, underneath this veneer of unmoved cynicism, of hard-edged New Yorkerism, he's really a guy who Gets It. I was reminded inevitably of a sitcom in which the characters might bicker, but, in the end, they really love one another. Rakoff can be funny, even hilarious, in places, and he's a marvellously intelligent writer, but, if you want really to enjoy him, skim off the last paragraph of each entry when he shifts tones to dewy-eyed wonder to share with you The Lesson He's Learned (nature isn't that bad; credulous Loch Ness-types aren't that bad; martial arts mysticism isn't that bad).
The only time this wasn't objectionable was in the last essay, in reading which I really felt like I had shared in a slice of his life. Here, the lesson is not I Shouldn't be Intolerant but rather -- well, read it. It's a genuine lesson learned, not a pleased reflexion on how open-minded he really is, in the end; and it's welcome, and almost heartbreaking, this thoroughly genuine moment in a book so entrenchedly about sarcasm and fraud.