Two of the literary world’s most entertaining lighthearted cynics collaborate on a brief text that takes the form of a fake graduation speech.
“It’s pretty fucked up,” writes Hiaasen (Razor Girl, 2016, etc.) early on in the speech, referring to the “real world” that his imaginary graduates are preparing to enter. Accompanied by apt illustrations from New Yorker illustrator Chast (Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, 2017, etc.), winner of the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award, this speech runs through a litany of life’s challenges and obstacles and how to overcome them (“lowering your expectations will inoculate you against serial disappointment”) followed by a shorter closing section in which Hiaasen turns more hopeful. After all, he does want his readers to experience happiness, but happiness is “slippery. It’s unpredictable. It’s a different sensation for everyone.” A good portion of the text discusses our highly divisive society and the prevalence of stupidity—or, more accurately, willful ignorance. Hiaasen is quick to point out that society as a whole may not be dumber than when he graduated college in 1974, but the social and cultural landscape is vastly different. “Society has been deeply divided before,” he writes, “but never has it been so inanely distracted. Don’t be shocked if more Americans can identify all the Kardashian sisters than can find Serbia on a world map.” Global geography aside, there’s no question that technology has shifted our gaze and often warped our perceptions of each other, and the text and illustrations here serve as a quick, amusing snapshot of that situation. Thankfully, underneath all the despair and snark—social media is “a geyser of ominous evidence that our species has begun to de-evolve, receding back to the slime bog from which we first emerged”—are glimmers of optimism, as in most of the work from both Hiaasen and Chast. “One thing happiness is not,” writes Hiaasen, “is overrated.”
Slim but pointed and humorous; a good gift for the neighbor’s kid’s graduation.