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Archive for the ‘humor’ Tag

Shall We Gather at the Cemetery   Leave a comment

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Lincoln in the Bardo is a mash-up. It’s part Greek tragedy, part play, part poem and completely imaginative. George Saunders has crafted a novel that can best be described as unusual, and that’s meant as a compliment.

Amid a graveyard setting, following the death of Willie Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of the U.S. president, Saunders’ tale is about grief, the afterlife and the disenfranchised. It includes a lot of humor.

Bardo comes from the Buddhist thought regarding a state between life and death; a purgatory of sorts. The characters are largely those trapped in this transitional stage. Although they are definitely dead, Saunders brings them to life through references to their foibles when they were alive as well as through their attitudes and deeds among the nonliving. They aren’t zombies, but they are supernatural.

There is no dialogue. Instead, observations on the action are shared through statements from the characters or from accounts in books, newspapers, conversations and other sources. It’s a blend of having each statement presented as lines in a play with footnotes. For example, this about Abraham Lincolns’ grief:

“It was only just at bedtime, when the boy would normally present
himself for some talk or roughhousing that Mr. Lincoln seemed truly
mindful of the irreversibility of the loss.”
In “Selected Memories from a Life of Service,”
By Stanley Hohner

Initially, it was a bit difficult to embrace the format and the narrative. However, it becomes evident that Saunders is creative and appreciates a good laugh.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2017
343 pages

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Distributing/Accepting Apologies   Leave a comment

Fredrik Backman author of the acclaimed A Man Called Ove has found a successful formula, which once again emerges in My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. The title is  a successful attention-getter – certainly more so than the earlier book. Like Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me assembles diverse characters who are, initially, only tenuously connected.

The major difference between the two novels, though, lies in the main protagonist. Here it’s seven-year-old-soon-to-be-eight Elsa. Although there are plenty of explanations for her being so precocious, Elsa’s behavior, vocabulary and thought-processes, at times, leans more to incredulity than not. Her grandmother is partly to blame and mostly to be celebrated for the young girl’s sense of curiosity, intellect and strong sense of self. But, and this is no spoiler alert since the book cover reveals as much, the grandmother dies leaving Elsa to navigate a world where being different is difficult.

Elsa is charged with delivering a series of letters written by her grandmother. They’re for tenants in the building where Elsa lives but whom she barely knows. Wanna guess what happens?

Humor and pathos move hand-in-hand throughout the narrative, which also includes fairy tales of secret lands. Again, this is thanks to Elsa’s grandmother.

I found My Grandmother Asked Me to be less engaging that Ove, but nonetheless satisfying by its conclusion. Tying up loose ends isn’t always a bad thing. It certainly fits with Backman’s storytelling technique and his ability to create interesting characters full of foibles and heart.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Four Bookmarks
Washington Square Press, 2015
372 pages

FUDS: What’s Not For Dinner   Leave a comment

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FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia by Alfredo & Antonio Mizretti is neither for the weak of stomach nor the humorless. Let’s start with the fact it’s actually written by Kelly Hudson, Dan Klein and Arthur Meyer. This trio has taken the mystique and the occasional arrogance often associated with haute cuisine out of the kitchen and onto the equivalent of a culinary comedy stage.

The authors are irreverent, silly and occasionally gross in the manner of pre-adolescents. They’re also fun and creative. Although the book is “Dedicated to Food,” it could easily be earmarked for those who love food and don’t mind heavy-handed metaphorical flavoring.

The Mizretti personas assumed by the true authors are twin brothers who grew up in Denver eating Mama Mizretti’s homemade specialties, which, according to Alfredo and Antonio “was awful.” Eventually, they open a restaurant, FUDS, in Brooklyn with only three items on the menu.

The content is ridiculous, but for anyone interested in food, and not so full of him or herself that a good laugh can’t be appreciated, it’s entertaining.

The book is comprised of several chapters related to the Mizrettis’ background, food basics a la FUDS, satirical descriptions of kitchen tools and several chapters of recipes – the kind made up at summer camp or on a college campus. Some are, frankly, gross. All are absurd.

A little FUDS go a long way. Its 160 pages, of which many are illustrations, is just about the right length. Of course, it also lends itself to return reads.

FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia from Tickling Shrimp to Not Dying in a Restaurant
Four Bookmarks (0 plates)
Bloomsbury, 2015
160 pages

More Than A Day on the Beach   Leave a comment

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub is as bright as a day on the beach and also as gritty. Full of poignant, laugh-out-loud descriptions, Straub masterfully portrays a family in crisis.

Jim and Franny Post, with their teenage-daughter, thirty-something son, his girlfriend, and Franny’s best friend Charles and his partner are slated to spend two weeks together in a large rented house on Mallorca. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation and every day includes various perspectives provided by the connected tourists. These are separate views more than distinct voices. Each character hopes to project, or better yet protect, a certain image, because everyone has a secret – some known to a few, others hidden.

The Posts, married 35 years, are financially well-off, privileged. Their daughter, Sylvia, is set to start at Brown in the fall, and the trip was planned as a family celebration. However, in the interim from when the trip was conceived and actually occurs, Jim has had an affair and lost his job. Some know this; others don’t.

As the emotional baggage is shuffled around, the Posts direct their own disappointments to Carmen, the girlfriend. She’s perhaps the most honest among the group, but she is also subjected to the family’s rude behavior. Only Sylvia demonstrates fleeting moments of kindness and understanding.

Yet, the novel isn’t about being mean to others. It’s focused on what people do to live with themselves, even when they’re basking in the sun and have been out too long without sunscreen.

The Vacationers
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
292 pages

Laugh Out Loud Parenting   Leave a comment

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I hadn’t heard of Jim Gaffigan before his appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” this past spring. Then I saw his name as an author on the library’s list of most requested books. I thought he was funny and decided to get in line for Dad is Fat. It was actually a long line. Although I enjoyed the book, I have to wonder if the library only ordered one copy.

Gaffigan writes about his life as the father of five young children. He, his wife and their brood live in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. It’s a small space full of chaos, fun and lots of love. No aspect of parenting is off limits. He addresses everything from attending church to going to the park, from getting babysitters to sleeping — at least trying to. He writes, “I love the fact that if my children wake up scared or are feeling lonely, they can come in our bed. I just wish each and every one of them didn’t do it every single night.”

His humor blends sarcasm with self-deprecation. He considers his wife a saint, albeit a fertile one. Gaffigan is in the right career as a comedian, and his voice adjusts well to the page.

The book provides several laugh-out-loud moments, but after a while they start to wear thin. For people of a certain age, his family may sound reminiscent of sit-coms from the 1960s. Perhaps someday it will be the basis of one on a cable channel.

Dad is Fat
Three Bookmarks
Crown Archetype, 2013
274 pages

Mystery Lite   Leave a comment

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A wholesome, but fiercely independent, young woman in rural Minnesota isn’t exactly who comes to mind when a murder needs to be solved. Yet, author Joanne Fluke has developed quite the following with her Hannah Swensen mysteries. The only explanation I can surmise lies in the fact that Hannah, who fits the above depiction, is also a baker extraordinaire and it’s worth the easy reading to get some new recipes.

Fluke’s most recent addition to the Hannah Swensen oeuvre is Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, which had been on The New York Times Best Seller’s List for several weeks. That, along with my own penchant for cupcakes, is what drew me to the book. Nonetheless, my expectations, fortunately, were not high, so I was not  disappointed.

Hannah lives in Lake Eden, a small town, where she owns the Cookie Jar, a bakery and coffee shop. The story begins with her catering the opening of a renovated hotel. The cupcakes are a featured attraction, along with several delicious-sounding baked goods. Readers are immediately introduced (or for those Hannah followers re-introduced) to Hannah’s mother, sister, love interests (yes, plural) and friends. Hannah’s nemesis from an earlier book reappears on the scene.

It doesn’t take long for an accident to occur, which requires a lot of cooking on Hannah’s part to help make people feel better. Soon thereafter someone is murdered, and instead of being part of the unofficial investigation, Hannah becomes a suspect. Somehow, thanks to friends and family, the bakery continues to serve the delicious sweets it is known for, and readers can continue to drool over their descriptions.

All of the delectables include clever names to fit the situation. Among them are Razzle Dazzle Brownies, Tickled Pink Lemonade Cookies, Snappy Turtle Pie and the Red Velvet Cupcakes with a Surprise Filling — the storyline is so predictable it’s nice there is at least one revelation that truly unfolds.

Red Velvet Cupcake Murder
Three Bookmarks
Kenninsgton Books, 2013
323 pages, including recipes

Midlife Crisis in the Old West   Leave a comment

Just to be clear, The Sisters Brothers isn’t missing an apostrophe. The first time I saw
the title by Patrick DeWitt I was certain there was an error. I thought the book was about
the male relatives of sisters. That’s half right: brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, but no
female siblings.

Set in the Old West, Eli narrates as he and Charlie, both professional gunslingers, embark
on their latest assignment: to find and kill an enigmatic miner. DeWitt’s depictions of time
and place are so strong you can practically smell smoke after the gunfights. Charlie is the
elder and angrier of the two brothers. Eli paints himself as a sensitive man, going so far as
to keep a horse he describes as “portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty
miles in a day…” even after he acquires a better, faster one. His reasoning: he felt sorry for
the old one. Strange stuff from a reputed bad guy.

Although his age isn’t mentioned, Eli is going through, if not a midlife crisis, at least a mid-
career one. He’s questioning his line of work. DeWitt injects humor into this western tale
about two men bound by blood and business, but separated by sensitivity and yearning.
Eli realizes he has missed out on many things including, a wife and family, because he has
knowingly ridden alongside Charlie. At one point, this realization even causes Eli to go on
a diet. Yup, mighty strange stuff from a reputed bad guy.

The Sisters Brothers

Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins Books, 2011
325 pages