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Leaving the magic Sniglets formula behind, the comic actor (Not Necessarily the News, Saturday Night Live) undertakes a humorous journey into camp America. The result is an odd mÉlange of essays and anecdotes, droll reportage and unbridled flights of psychosis. Among the best pieces are Hall's Kafkaesque tall tales: how a Texan puts a lizard on his windshield in place of a radar detector; an ill-fated ride in a car-transport truck; a chat with a Kansas man whose hobby is building ships in cans. The narrator remains frustratingly mercurial. Hall oscillates between leisurely observations akin to Garrison Keillor's ambient humor and absurdist outbursts similar in density to Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes. In addition, there are echoes of the character Hall plays in his TV skits: scowling, alienated to the point of pathos. He is intermittently successful in all these attitudes, but the shifting quickly becomes unsettling. It is impossible to separate the exaggerated from the concocted. For example, an interview with a Pakistani grocer in Enid, Oklahoma, whose stock is often shelved upside-down, fails because--whether real or imagined--the grocer's strange comments are unbelievably glib. A mock-reverent visit to a laundromat collapses when the narrator climbs into a washing machine. There are sublime moments in these travels, too. Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, Hall discovers that not one, but scores of beautiful women drive flat-bed Fords along the main drag. There are also, however, many lackluster pieces: ""Home,"" ""Some Women I've Known"" and others. Most importantly, Hall's inability to settle on an attitude or on the parameters of his stories overwhelms his moments of virtuosity. An ambitious, but flawed effort to transcend the sniglet.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan