We Learn Nothing

We Learn Nothing

Tim Kreider, Free Press

Normally, the phrase “a book of satirical essays and cartoons” would have me running for the hills. Those books tend to be a tad too self-congratulatory in a very New Yorker kind of way. Not so Tim Kreider. He skewers human follies with dead-eyed accuracy but is just as adept at laying open his own confusion.

All of this would be relentlessly forensic if he wasn’t so compassionate and so darned funny.

Kreider effortless blends the personal and the political:  a voyage into America’s Tea Party turns to his embarrassment at discovering not all right-wingers are bad people.

His account of recovery from alcoholism is equal parts regret and nostalgia. “I’m more productive now, and more successful; for the first time in my life I’m supporting myself by doing what I’ve always wanted to do. But I laugh less than I used to.”

Sometimes, the cartoons comment on the essay’s theme. Sometimes, they stand alone. “Past Tim” paints his self of yesterday as an arch-nemesis. “Like a bad roommate, he routinely leaves the grounds in the French Press.”

There is elaborate wit in his metaphors. An account of supporting his friend through a sex change shifts to laying open his own ambivalence as a guy: “Some of [my friends] do get excited about professional football, but this I regard as a regrettable genetic defect, like the predisposition toward sickle-cell anaemia among African Americans.”

There is no panoramic wisdom to be had here. Kreider is too battered and hung over to offer any. There is grace and wry beauty.

Matt Fenwick


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