What should have been easy picking for the satirist isn’t nearly as funny or perceptive as his best work.
O’Rourke (Holidays in Heck, 2011, etc.) has made a career out of skewering his generation’s liberal pieties and high-minded self-regard. Perhaps he has used up too much of his material or figured that the generational topic was so ripe for caricature that the book would write itself. Yes, the baby boomers are narcissistic, hypocritical, as materialist as they are idealist and obsessed with whatever stage of life they happen to be passing through. “We speak from the heart, and that’s not half of it,” he writes. “We speak from the gut, from the spleen, from the liver’s bile ducts, out our butts, through our hats, even our T shirts can’t shut up with the things we have to say, never mind social media and talk radio talk show call-in callers.” Point made and taken. O’Rourke’s long-windedness reinforces rather than punctures that tendency, as he describes the typical baby boomer’s (i.e., his own) family, maturation, sexual awakening, radical acculturation, substance experimentation (though he continues to prefer beer to illegal drugs), and ultimate need to cut his hair, buy a suit and get a job. He spends a surprising amount of time stuck in the 1950s, though it was the ’60s that would define this generation, and about which he belabors some obvious points: “It was not, of course, a decade. The Sixties as they are popularly remembered…was an episode of about 72 months duration when the Baby Boom had fully infested academia and America’s various little bohemian enclaves…and came to an abrupt halt in 1973 when conscription ended and herpes began.” He has the same memories of not attending Woodstock that so many others have, and he even recycles the ancient joke about what the Grateful Dead fan said when he ran out of pot.
“Our genius is being funny,” writes the author of his generation, but such genius is in short supply here.