But mostly he is. Cloying, overlong diversions best suited for 15 minutes of public radio. Nothing more.


Fifteen disparate personal essays running from wisecracking self-deprecation to a misplaced, though welcome, earnestness from yet another young, sardonic NPR graduate.

Rakoff may wish to steal the mantle from fellow ironist David Sedaris but in his intermittent humor barely manages to surpass Sarah Vowell, both of whom pop up in uncredited cameos here. His studied, fish-out-of-water neurosis emerges early in the collection with “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave,” as he’s forced (on assignment, natch) to leave his Manhattan apartment and accompany a couple of salt-of-the-earth types up a mountain. The author’s newfound bumpkin buddies are heroically patient with him as he ponders how to survive the experience with only one Xanax. On a kibbutz (“Rise, Ye Wretched of the Earth”), Rakoff moans that “the sun is just always shining” and finds that he’s unsuited to outside work. In “Christmas Freud,” he secures himself a spot as the lone live-action figure in a Christmas department-store-window pastiche as what one would imagine is the ultimate for Rakoff: excruciatingly self-conscious and the center of attention all at once. And those are the funny pieces. In “I’ll Take the Low Road,” Rakoff goes to deepest, mythic Scotland, where he makes the shocking discovery that the culture war between Loch Ness believers and Loch Ness infidels is, well, nonexistent. Even less a story is “Hidden People,” a meandering, dull investigation of the storied elfin people of Iceland. Only when he insinuates himself into other people’s lives and fades from focus do Rakoff’s observations take on some measure of poignancy. The finest entry here—“We Call It Australia”—follows a group of Austrian teaching recruits into the New York City school system and manages to lampoon Americans and poke holes in American stereotypes at the same time. Rakoff has a charming point of view and a sure-footed voice, so long as he’s not kvetching and kvelling.

But mostly he is. Cloying, overlong diversions best suited for 15 minutes of public radio. Nothing more.

Pub Date: May 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50084-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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