From Publishers Weekly
A sequel to book designer Kidd's first novel, The Cheese Monkeys
, this beautifully composed paean to pre-computer graphic design pitches recent graduate Happy (his nickname), now 21, into the mercantile halls of down-at-the-heels New Haven ad agency Spears, Rakoff and Ware. Kidd paints the agency with all the customary conventions of a mid-century office culture farce: lacquered secretaries, lunchtime scotches and broken-down businessmen. Happy wiles away his time in blissful drudgery until he fields a call for designing a tiny ad for a seemingly innocuous psychological study. The study is being run by (real-life psychologist) Stanley Milgram, and Happy is unable to resist volunteering; little surprise for readers that Happy finds himself a participant in Milgram's notorious Obedience to Authority
experiment, playing the role of The Teacher who is ordered to shock The Learner with near-lethal doses of electricity. Though character development is less the point than jokes about behaviorism and old school office culture's last gasps, the experiment teaches Happy more than he ever hoped to know. The jokes are sometimes dippy, and some of the typographical pyrotechnics are on the twee side. But Kidd's ebullience and generosity in unpacking the art and practice of graphic design carry the novel. (Feb.)
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Graphic designer and novelist Chip Kidd is best known for his smart book-jacket designs for Donna Tartt, David Sedaris, and Michael Crichton, among others. He used his innovative design elements to explore the relationship between form and content in The Cheese Monkeys
, and he employs the same design virtuosity here, though critics diverged in opinion about how much virtuosity, exactly, was enough. While most reviewers praised Kiddâs design talent, a few thought he courted gimmickry with his page and font designs, and others thought he didnât go far enough. With the exception of the New York Times Book Review
, however, reviewers agreed on Kiddâs ample literary talentâ"his dark, satirical wit, solid characterizations, and ability to explore the dark abyss of the human soul. For pure originality, thereâs little else like The Learners
â"except, of course, The Cheese Monkeys
, where readers may wish to start.Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.