Ian Frazier | Lamentations of the Father

book_frazier.gifLittle did I know that Frazier was also an accomplished humorist.




208 pages. New York: Picador, 2009. $14 (paperback)

I’m a great admirer of Ian Frazer’s non-fiction writing. I thought Great Plains (1989) and On the Rez (2000) had just the right combination of personal narration and factual research to present their subjects in a manner both captivating and authoritative. And I’m a Nebraska girl so I have some knowledge of both topics and a healthy suspicion of outsiders who try to tell us our business (although in the interests of full disclosure, I must note that Frazier was born in Cleveland, which counts as the Midwest in some people’s opinion, although it’s certainly not part of the Great Plains).  

Little did I know that Frazier was also an accomplished humorist. The Atlantic Monthly picked him as one of the best four humorists ever to appear in that magazine, putting him in the same company as Mark Twain, James Thurber and Kurt Vonnegut. The essay the Atlantic chosen to represent Frazer’s work was "Lamentations of the Father," which appears in this collection and provides the title as well. The collection is a finalist for the 2009 Thurber Prize (the winner will be announce on October 5) and the essay is a hoot, which demonstrates one of Frazier’s favorite devices: writing a first-person essays in someone else’s voice (in this case, a combination of suburban dad and God the Father) which create a vivid picture of the speaker’s world.

Here’s a sample from the title essay: "Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room." Many prohibitions later, godly dad relents just a bit and acknowledges the centrality of television in the recuperative experience: "But if you are sick, and are lying down and watching something, then you may eat in the living room."

OK, everyone has their idea of humor and if that does it for you, you’ll love this collection; if not, you may wish to seek further, because that’s a fair sample of the style of the essays in this collection. Frazier’s other topics include the crow language (referring to the birds, not the Native Americans), Laura Ingalls Wilder in the modern world, and the mysterious disappearance of the "Most Wanted" notices at the post office. The Cursing Mommy makes several appearances, but I wouldn’t dream of quoting her household hints in a publication for mixed audiences. Anyway, if you like Frazier’s brand of humor, this is a nice collection of short and self-contained pieces, some of which are bound to connect with your funny bone. | Sarah Boslaugh 

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