SOCIAL STUDIES by Fran Lebowitz


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Thinner and less consistently amusing than Metropolitan Life (1978), this new humor collection again features Lebowitz's endearingly grumpy, anti-trendy, pro-smoking sensibility--but now the sketchiness of her craft (one-liners strung together in lists, one-laugh notions expanded unimaginatively) seems as prominent as the healthy dourness of her Manhattan outlook. Nearly a third of these short pieces use the How-To parody format: tips for travel, teens, and parents (""If your child simply grows up to be someone who does not use the word 'collectible' as a noun, you can consider yourself an unqualified success""); how to behave around poor people; how to be a Directory Assistance operator (""for heaven's sake, never forget 'You can find that number listed in your directory.' It gets them every time""); pointers on pets (""pets should be disallowed by law""); and a ""High Stress Diet"" plan--a lame bit revolving around show-biz/agent jokes. Other, slightly more substantial parody ideas would be dandy if they didn't peter out into repetitiveness: the sob stories of the N.Y. Times' ""Neediest Cases"" recast with rich folks (""Kimberly M. has lost her luggage. Certainly you can spare some of your own""); an auction-catalogue description of Lebowitz's possessions (""6. THREE ELECTRICAL ALARM CLOCKS, ONE OF WHICH WORKS/LATEISH TWENTIETH CENTURY""); an autobiography in strictly-business style (""I started with a humor pushcart on Delancey Street""). And some of the dead-horse subjects here--apartment-hunting, L.A.--need more resuscitation than Lebowitz can provide. Strangely enough, the few inspired moments aren't dependent on N.Y.-hip references--like the congenial absurdism of a list of people with ""almost the exact same hairstyle"" (Victor Hugo and Sarah Caldwell, Jean Cocteau and Eli Wallach). And the book's most developed piece--notwithstanding the unfortunate timing--is ""At Home with Pope Ron,"" an interview with a pontiff who wears a T-shirt with the legend ""INFALLIBLE BUT NOT INFLEXIBLE"" and says: ""the Jews hassled Christ, they didn't actually kill him."" Mostly, though, this is shorthand humor designed to produce little chortles of recognition--okay for a very specific urban audience, but without the human-comedy grounding to mean much west of the Hudson.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Random House