July 2003

Michael Farrelly


Dating Your Mom by Ian Frazier

One of the most common sayings that run through liberal arts departments goes, "Well, you may not make as much as the finance majors, but you will be fascinating at cocktail parties."

If I ever throw a cocktail party I want to invite Ian Frazier, whose new book Dating Your Mom is literary comedy at its finest.

Dating Your Mom is a collection of essays Frazier wrote for The New Yorker. Normally The New Yorker is a bit of xenobiology for those not in NYC, but Frazier manages to tickle and torture the funny bone.

Reviewing comedy is a bit like herding cats. So rather than dissect some of the funny parts and ruin the joke for you let's just look at the set-ups for Frazier's essays.

-An examination of Frazier's apartment after the Fall of Saigon; -A lethal number called "A Killion"; -The Solzhenitsyn's social calendar; and -A reading list for Young Writers ("Bleak House: That's the one with the car chase, right?").

The title essay, "Dating Your Mom," is both eerie and hysterical. Obviously the incest taboo leaps to all of our dirty minds but Frazier makes it sound all but romantic: "Or perhaps she comes into your room to bring you some clean socks. Take her by the wrist, pull her close and say 'Mom, You're the most fascinating woman I've ever met.'"

The one essay that literally drove me to tears was "The Stuttgart Folders." Imagine a naked Hitler ordering his ministers into the buff and then rewriting literary scenes with world leaders. After reading the dark histories of the Third Reich and realizing how totally barmy the man at the top of it was, Frazier's vision does not seem all that far-fetched.

Frazier knows that literary comedy is a tightrope act. On one side you have the abyss of snobbery, on the other the long dark of just not being very funny. Bad literary comedy is like a smell that won't leave. Frazier does not stink in the slightest.

Since it's July, and everyone goes to the beach in July, take Dating Your Mom along as a beach read. Unlike the mind-numbing John Grisham or lengthy Tom Clancy, Ian Frazier's bite-sized essays will leave you laughing and thinking all at once. Just in time for the cocktail party.

Dating Your Mom by Ian Frazier
ISBN: 0312421524
144 Pages