Ian Frazier is a typical NEW YORKER writer, so convinced of his own drollery that he often sees no need to exercise it. The first three--and earliest written--essays in this book keep promising a payoff, either comic or insightful, that is simply never delivered. Instead, Frazier presents mundane, personalized accounts of a town in Kansas celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of a local Indian massacre, an expert fly fisherman who ran a tackle shop in midtown Manhattan for many years, and syndicated household-hints columnist Heloise, both the original, a military wife, and the daughter, an upscale Texan who has written the column since her mother’s death. All are top-heavy with accounts of the writer’s automobile journeys and descriptions of nondescript motel rooms, and burdened by Frazier’s annoying penchant for page-long lists of unenlightening details.
The last two, most recent essays, however, are small gems of perceptive observation. “Bear News” is a witty, informative, and richly anecdotal account of the tenuous and controversial relationship between men and bears in the vicinity of Montana’s Glacier National Park. “Komar and Melamid” is a hilarious and touching profile of the two expatriate Soviet satirical artists. Their own fractured-English accounts of maintaining creative integrity in both the Soviet Union and the capitalist West are simultaneously appalling and inspiring.
Overall, the book reveals a definite maturation in Frazier’s style; it also suggests that a reporter is generally only as good as his subject.