By DAVID HILL
America’s best-loved reactionary gets cute, and spends a year at home with Poppet and Muffin. He swiped the idea from Oliver Wendell Holmes sen, just as he’s swiped a good deal of the book’s content from his own columns and articles.
Actually, the setting is largely irrelevant. Everything in the galaxy is fodder for P.J.’s coruscating, sparkling, gut-punching, eventually wearying opinions.
There’s the crusty old Luddite stuff: why he doesn’t have a cellphone and hates the web (a device by which bad ideas travel round the world at the speed of light); why he prefers rhyming poetry.
He has a brilliant section on wine-tasting - if you’re at a loss, describe someone in the room - and another on celebrities. Popstar Britney Spears is yet another media figure named after a retriever.
O’Rourke can be as zany as Bill Bryson and as folksy as Dave Barry. But unlike them, he’s a bully. A brilliant bully, who loathes lots of people for lots of reasons. And the savage flicks that energise a column grow dreary and misanthropic when they recur at book length.
Life and America provide him with endless material. But if he can’t find a target, he invents one. What doesn’t he like? The UN, le Corbusier, the North Koreans, Bill Clinton, Fernand Leger murals, the Froggy bozo in Conference Room 1, Hillary Clinton, the Bangladesh Government. All these come in the first 10 pages.
He’s a professional with cadences and dialogue. Like Clive James, he quotes Verlaine and Horace just when you’re about to wipe him as a know-nothing redneck.
He can enchant or impale you with half a sentence: as an adjective, summer is no compliment; he grew up in a neighbourhood where kids fill their squirt guns with Perrier. You’ll enjoy his relationships with the Democrat neighbours, and his concern for their sudden illness. (They leave O’Rourke’s place, muttering about a pain in the ass.)
He leaps all over the world - Las Vegas, full of Americans dressed like two-year-olds; Venice, where you can’t push a stroller anywhere. He remembers sending the in-laws to Ireland on a glass-bottom bus tour, and entering India with its awfully funny Customs officials and awfully funny religions.
Trouble is, after the first couple of pages, at least half his armed responses stop being wit and become rant. A valid anti-drugs stand swells into a lather of name-calling and conspiracy theories. A corrosive comparison of Gore and Bush bogs down in a slough of sneers.
Meet P.J. at a party and I suspect you’d laugh, try to remember his best lines, and be glad to get away.
* David Hill is a Taranaki writer.
$34.95By David Hill