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Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations Paperback – April 3, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
A contributor to Mad, 22-year-old Rich is a Harvard senior, a former president of the Harvard Lampoon and the son of New York Times columnist Frank Rich. Half of the short humor pieces collected here previously appeared in the Harvard Lampoon, and Rich has taken his college collage and mixed it with new material for a satirical salmagundi that bites back. Since brevity is the soul of wit, the book has 57 varieties of playlets, essays and mirthful monologues, and most are only two pages long. Imaginative premises abound, such as X Files with dog characters. In the title piece, ants plot an escape: "We've been digging tunnels ever since we got here. We always end up hitting glass." Since a college-level audience is targeted, older readers might find some references puzzling. In his original proposal to Random House (a portion of which was printed in the New York Observer), he claimed that the "subject matter—horrible, inescapable doom—is well-suited for a younger audience.... I think kids will be attracted to the book's unpredictability. The tone remains constant throughout, but the topic changes every page with the abruptness of an iPod shuffle." True, these fragments are fun, and some are so abrupt they could have been iPhoned in. Others are as unpredictable as YouTube, as in your face as MySpace (which will both surely be used for online promotions). (Apr. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this collection of comic vignettes, Rich, a Harvard senior and former president of the I^ Harvard Lampoon, displays a knack for extracting humor from scenarios of discomfort and despair. There's the son who unwittingly exposes his single mother's promiscuity, the nerd who becomes cool in the eyes of his Bulgarian pen pal, and the factory employee who goes a little nuts on the job. Performance anxiety among pandas, small talk gone wrong, the validity of "love coupons" when a relationship goes bad--all are covered here. Readers also learn about unlikely applications of math. (Who knew solving a trigonometry problem could mitigate a murderer's wrath?) And on the liabilities of being invisible, Rich writes: "When I was a lifeguard, I never got any credit for any of my heroic rescues. It was always 'angel this' and 'angel that.'" Some of the selections are more dark than droll (a boy's discovery of his father's alcohol cache, the text message of a teenager with hepatitis C), but all have the same good-natured goal: finding levity amid the gravity of everyday life. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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Save your money. There are way too many good books out there to waste your time on this one.
Sorry to tell the truth.
Don't quit your day job, Simon.
Laugh-O-Meter: 10! Very funny!
I watched a clip of Bill Clinton solemnly weighing the meaning of certain words before coming up with "That depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."
Laugh-O-Meter 9! Very funny, but not quite hilarious.
Then I watched some old "Laugh In" skits...
Laugh-O-Meter 3 to 4. Moderately unfunny!
...some early Saturday Night Live...
Laugh-O-Meter 7. Funny for sure!
...and finally I studied shots of Alberto Gonzalez pondering...pondering...not recalling...not recalling...lying under oath...furling his brow...pondering...not recalling...
Laugh-O-Meter 6.5. Just plain funny!
So armed, I started reading Simon Rich's book. Wow. There's a lot of air in the book, two nearly blank pages every chapter break, plenty of spacing between lines, etc., and even so the book's only 139 pages long. I was done in twenty minutes! I got a print out of the Laugh-O-Meter's ratings. Here are some highlights:
"the ride back to beersheba" (titles are in lowercase so you don't have to hit the shift key--got to love the efficiency of the text messaging crowd) in which a modern day Abraham is returning from the mountain having almost killed his son in the name of The Father and is now working hard to keep Isaac from telling mom about it. He says to his son, just tell Mom what we did was "pretty normal." (p. 4)
Laugh-O-Meter 5. Mildly amusing but deep!
"a conversation at the grown-ups' table as imagined at the kids' table" (p. 5)
Laugh-O-Meter 8. Very funny! But more than that, slyly true! ("MOM: Pass the wine, please. I want to become crazy." Later: "MOM: I had a lot of wine, and now I'm crazy!")
But then things started to get unfunny. I recorded a couple of 2's and a 3 and then there was "math problems" which peaked at 4.5, in which a math teacher's Unit 4 Test (with word problems) inadvertently projects onto his students his marital and drinking difficulties, including a geometric calculous of how far he must stay away from his ex-wife by court order amid calculations about the price of rum.
After that there were a few sparklers, e.g., "what goes through my mind when I'm home alone (from my mom's perspective)." "Hmm...Better go through the medicine cabinet and drink all the medicine for no reason. Wait, what's this? A note telling me not to 'drink any medicines'? Thank God! I was about to do that. I was about to drink all the medicines and kill myself because I'm retarded." Notice that this is actually from the kid's perspective imagining his mom's rationale.
Laugh-O-Meter 7! Funny!
But that was about it. Rich is best when he uses the something-seen-as-happening-from-another-person's-perspective comedic technique, especially kids looking at adults. He is at his worst when at the end of the book he gives us some army/war type of humor. Never been there. Never done that. Laugh-O-Meter 0.1. Kind of like a Harvard undergrad trying to imagine combat. Huh? My mom would NEVER let me go! Be serious.
Consequently, although this is not what you might call laugh out loud funny, it does perhaps somewhat inadvertently probe beneath the flimsy veneer of a certain world view that I might call prep school ennui (I have to go to school because I am going to inherit the world because my dad says so, but my mom still hasn't picked up the wash, and anyway I've got some serious pimples to pop, etc., etc., and so on, give me a total break and no I will not loan you my blue blazer cause you barfed on the last thing I lent you and besides it doesn't fit because you've still got CHILDHOOD OBESITY, dumbfart.)
By the way, the title piece is about ants trying to tunnel their way out of the glass enclosure of the "ant farm" as seen from the ants' point of view. Laugh-O-Meter 5. But good at describing symbolically the human predicament as seen from a kid's perspective.
Moments that involve realizing the agony spent before receiving one's first calculator, the ironic closed-mindedness when experimenting with a ouija board, making candy with a forgetful someone named Peanut Al, keeping close tabs on your daily karma tally, God's overwhelming support for Orel Hershiser, and the three things you really don't need if stranded on a desert island.
Ant Farm is an incredibly fast and funny read. The selections are brief and varied, maybe a little too much so, as each consists no more than a couple of pages and is unbounded by coherent theme other than pure whimsy. But it does create that weird momentary pause, raising the question whether there is anything more absurd than us humans and our behavior.
The very first story in the book describes the awkward conversation between Abraham and Isaac on the drive home after God's last-second reversal of his command for Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God.
"How about some ice cream, Isaac?"