Too Soon to Tell

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Trillin uses a number of traditional comic techniques to achieve his ends in these essays. There is, for example, the use of juxtaposition of vastly different elements, of irony, and mock seriousness. Trillin’s comic mask is of a bemused outsider who is contemplating the mysteries of the modern and urban world. In addition, the last line of every essay has a comic twist as an early line reappears in a different context. There also is comic exaggeration as he pretends to deal seriously with such absurd propositions as “The Right to Bear Chain Saws.”

Trillin often casts his comic eye at politics and occasionally has some harsh things to say about presidents, but for the most part he is interested in the odd and the absurd—the First Cat, Socks, instead of President Clinton’s foreign policy.

Many of the essays deal with popular culture, and Trillin views it with suspicion. An example is his making fun of the unintelligibility of rock lyrics. Another tactic is to pick out some odd event in the newspaper and push it to absurdity. Finally, Trillin finds comedy where American writers have always found it: the domestic realm. His wife, Alice, pops up as a sane contrast to the muddled pose of the author, and his children are comic foils for his fatherly grumpiness.

TOO SOON TO TELL is a readable and amusing book, and it is likely to please those who are open to Trillin’s deft undermining of most of the ponderous issues found in the newspapers and television news.