Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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Don’t Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff (Doubleday, 2005)

***1/2

by Amy Diaz

If you listen to This American Life, you’ve got Rakoff’s voice in your head.

His is the very drolly detached voice that reads pieces such as “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave” and “Christmas Freud,” pieces that point out the disappointments and petty injustices of ordinary life (or at least ordinary urban life). Rakoff perfectly enunciates his words and lets every phrase roll off his tongue half mocking, half paralyzed with embarrassment.

In his latest book (Fraud was released in 2001), Rakoff displays the familiar unease of a New Yorker who has been made just as uncomfortable by the socio-political reactions to Sept. 11, 2001, as he was by the attacks themselves. In the book’s opening essay, Rakoff discusses getting his American citizenship (with, of course, much guilt felt about giving up his Canadian identity). Clearly in love with his city (New York), Rakoff has some, if not doubts, then facets he chooses not to dwell on, about his new country. “You can only know this if you grew up in a country directly adjacent to a globally dominating, culturally obliterating economic behemoth, but becoming an American feels like some kind of defeat. Another one bites the dust.”

With these big ideas, Rakoff’s voice is clear and highly entertaining. With the pettier issues facing an urban man, his writing voice is razor sharp and nose-snort funny. Whether talking about the foodie world of fetishizing the simple (sea salt or ice cubes that are analyzed with Talmudic intensity) or the fashion world of fetishizing the absurd, Rakoff coolly faces down irrational self-importance with an “oh, please.” He seems as embarrassed for himself as he is for those around him: “Behind them are the gawkers and fashion groupies gazing covetously at what looks like old home week for the people pouring into the space…. The soundtrack is an extended loop of plinky piano punctuated by the occasional whip crack, followed by orgasmic moaning. I look around for a fire exit.”

Rakoff is able to pull off the difficult trick of leaving no pretension unmocked without coming across as arrogant or mean-spirited. Don’t Get Too Comfortable (entertainingly subtitled “The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil and Other First World Problems) is an unassuming but oh-so bracing and refreshing cocktail of wit and intellect.  — Amy Diaz