MUNICIPAL BONDAGE

ONE MAN'S ANXIETY-PRODUCING ADVENTURES IN THE BIG CITY

The journalistic equivalent of a performance artist, Alford dreams up antic minidramas in which he can play at least a supporting role, stages them, and then reviews the results. On the evidence of the compilation at hand, the Manhattan-based freelancer (Mademoiselle, Spy, Vanity Fair, etc.) will do almost anything for a quiet laugh. Here, for example, he reports on close encounters with a clutter consultant, nude housecleaners (one man, one woman—at different times), modeling agencies, and the staff at upscale auction houses to which he had consigned bogus heirlooms. Included as well are droll accounts of the author's unavailing attempts to secure part-time employment at Macy's and to pass a dog-grooming test (with an uncooperative cocker spaniel in tow), plus his four- day stint as a volunteer chauffeur for the governor of Colorado during the 1992 Democratic convention in N.Y.C. If Alford occasionally misses the mark—with, say, nominal exposÇs of a profit-making enterprise ostensibly devoted to advancing the laggard cause of poetry or a Caribbean resort catering to licentious singles—his offbeat consumer guides are dead-on. Along the way, he rates the Big Apple's bed-and-breakfast accommodations, self-improvement videos, and the trendy experience of eating in the Plaza Hotel's kitchen in preference to its dining room. Among the set-piece essays is a series of bizarre interrogatories that address apocryphal issues (e.g., ``What If the Brontâ Sisters Had Been a Heavy-Metal Band?'') and offer a wealth of possible consequences (``1848 [they] lock manager, Mrs. Rochester, in attic''). These one-liner sideshows are an acquired taste, but at his best—which can be good indeed—Alford offers genuinely rueful takes on comic aspects of the urban experience.

Pub Date: March 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-41509-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1994

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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