Coyote v. Acme
Working through a backlog at AHC and have a few days at home so perhaps we’ll make progress. Today our subject is one of the best-loved and seemingly defining forms of our time-the parody. From SNL to The Simpsons you can’t escape it. I freely admit to having limited tolerance for any one form of anything. So an abundance is not necessarily a blessing. An abundance of any thing that requires perfect pitch to pull off might, in fact, be more of a curse.
That brings me to Coyote v. Acme by Ian ‘Sandy’ Frazier. Someone, it might have been John McPhee, once said that Ian Frazier was the finest writer of his generation. (McPhee, in any case, habitually refers to Frazier as Sandy so we had to get him in here somehow.) I’m not sure how you make a distinction like that. I enjoyed Family, Frazier’s sort-of memoir published in the mid-90s. Various things in The New Yorker have also caught my eye: a walk from Montclair to Midtown Manhattan on the margins of Route 3; a trans-Siberian trek in a van that ominously concludes on September 11, 2001.
That’s doesn’t provide a basis for me to draw a conclusion about who’s best. Besides, there’s the pesky problem of Shouts and Murmurs. For those not in the know, S&M is The New Yorker’s humor department. Since I’m not an habitue of the deep back issues I can’t say for certain, but I think S&M is the place that Thurber, Liebling and White probably hung out when they weren’t in Talk of the Town or longer form. Frazier appears there quite frequently.
While I unhesitatingly reported S&M’s function above I must confess it was news to me when my friend, the short story writer Alexander Feinstein, offhandedly referred to it as such. Much of the humor is, evidently, lost on me. That’ not new. There are whole swaths of humor I don’t get: Letterman; Conan O’Brien; Tina Fey; anything in which Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler or Will Farrell appears; ‘most every ‘black’ comedy ever made. I’d almost chalk it up to lack of time spent at the Lampoon offices in Cambridge, Mass (or the equivalent at Northwestern) except that Calvin Trillin can be laugh-out-loud funny and he’s an Eli. But I digress.
Let’s get back to this slim volume. “Twenty-two side-splitting glimpses into some oddball corners of the American mind” screams the back cover. (Sorry, the only word that accurately describes type set in upper case sans-serif bold is SCREAMING.) That’s a mighty big claim and at last for me the book doesn’t deliver on it. It doesn’t even deliver if I parse the claim and separate out the parts. (Note to blurb writer: is it the American mind or one American mind? I’m just asking.)
There are a few moments that worked. A playlet, at least the cast listing, was genuinely funny. And the stream-of-consciousness, hard-ass-New-York-native piece was amusing. It was also quite familiar since I’ve heard it from almost everyone I know who was raised beyond the 5 boroughs and 2 adjacent NY counties.
On the subject of perfect pitch I think Frazier probably has it. The range he exhibits impresses. The title piece, a legal brief, could be found in almost any federal courthouse. There’s are recognizable knockoffs of Charlotte Bronte and Henry Fielding and even Playbill. I don’t recognize the rest so the degree of art may be lost on me.
Here you have it folks–the limits of my education. There are things I can’t identify and don’t know about and I just have to learn to live with that.