David Rakoff. Doubleday Books, $21.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-385-50084-5
A talented new humorist springs onto the scene: Rakoff has a rapier wit, slashing in all directions with slice-of-life insights and cutting remarks, sometimes nicking himself with self-deprecation in his dexterous duello with the American experience. Rakoff is a public radio personality, and his first collection contains his material from public radio's This American Life and from Outside and Salon, as well as a few new pieces. Assigned to visit a New Age retreat for a Buddhism workshop led by Steven Seagal, to look for elves in Iceland, to attend the Aspen Comedy Festival and to train at a wilderness survival camp, Rakoff endures urban dweller misadventures with a spin that occasionally remind one of Fran Lebowitz, such as during his hike up a New Hampshire mountain: ""If only the mist would part to reveal a beautiful, beautiful parking lot, I will get through this."" Outstanding is ""Lush Life,"" a look at the delusions and despair of low-paid NYC editorial assistants, ""complicit believers in the mythic glamour of a literary New York"" yet forced to subsist on ""salmonella-friendly"" free snacks in ""unhappening bars"" where they can avoid former classmates with six-figure incomes. Rakoff can be as funny as Dave Barry or George Carlin, but he adds a touch of pathos, peeling away poignant layers unexplored by other humor writers. The author's woodcut illustrations are barely adequate, since the book cries out for Ralph Steadman art. The book cries out, period. (May 15) Forecast: With national print advertising and a national author tour in the offing, plus his radio exposure, Rakoff will quickly find his readership and they him. The crude pink marker scrawl of the title will make the book an eye-catching item in store displays.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2001