cover image Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

John Hodgman. Viking, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2480-3

Mild departures from the routine inspire neurotic palpitations in these dourly funny essays by humorist Hodgman (The Areas of My Expertise), who pegs his shaggy-dog stories to several unnerving locales. One is around his second home in rural Massachusetts, where he wrestles with anxiety about taking his garbage to the wrong town’s dump (the right dump is a longer drive), gets high and builds witchy cairns in a river, and fights a seesaw battle against raccoon droppings on his property and field mice in his kitchen. Other essays concern his postcollege arrival in New York, where he revels in sliding-scale-priced therapy with a trainee psychologist (“I could talk about jazz violin all day long and she was professionally obligated to listen thoughtfully and pretend to be interested”), and his horrifying Maine sojourns, featuring taciturn locals, insufferable summer people, and blighted confections (“Fudge is repulsive... like a dark, impacted colon blockage that a surgeon had to remove”). Recurring themes include the yearning for perpetual adolescence, the baffling burdens of adulthood (“Homeowners advice: do not put even a single box of stale Cheerios down the garbage disposal, never mind three”), and liberal self-loathing (“There is no mansplaining like white mansplaining”). Hodgman’s sketches ramble a while and then peter out, but the twists of mordant, off-kilter comedy make for entertaining excursions. (Oct.)