Lamentations of the Father Essays

Ian Frazier




Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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Winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor

When The Atlantic Monthly celebrated its 150th anniversary by publishing excerpts from the best writing ever to appear in the magazine, it chose only four pieces in the category of the humorous essay—one by Mark Twain, one by James Thurber, one by Kurt Vonnegut, and Ian Frazier’s 1997 essay “Lamentations of the Father.” The title piece of this new collection has had an ongoing life in anthologies, in radio performances, in audio recordings, on the internet, and in photocopies on refrigerator doors.

The august company in which The Atlantic placed Frazier gives an idea of where his humorous pieces lie on the literary spectrum. Frazier’s work is funny and elegant and poetic and of the highest literary aspiration, all at the same time. More serious than a “gag” writer, funnier than other essayists of equal accomplishment, Frazier is of a classical originality. This collection, a companion to his previous humor collections Dating Your Mom and Coyote v. Acme, contains thirty-three pieces gathered from the last thirteen years.


Praise for Lamentations of the Father

"Although our era is awash in comedy, literary humor has dwindled in recent years . . . Indeed, if there were a federal registry for endangered literary genres, humor surely would be on it, a prose equivalent of the black-footed ferret. All of this makes Ian Frazier a kind of rara avis and his new collection of essays, Lamentations of the Father, is as welcome as another sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker. As a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker, the author has enjoyed the protection of what amounts to one of literary humor's protected habitats, and he has made the most of it. No one writing in this genre today hits the mark with anything like Frazier's frequency. The measure of his success is the number of pieces you'll want to read aloud to others—partly to share the pleasure, partly to explain why you've been making all those strangling noises. What distinguishes literary humor from other forms of contemporary comedy is that, in most instances, you can share it with those around you, even if one of the listeners can't get into a PG-13 film on his own . . . One of the many pleasures of Frazier's humorous sensibility is that it doesn't deny the distinction between high and low, but integrates the two as equally real and worthy of consideration. The title 'The New Poetry,' for example, could be ripped from the hand-cut pages of any one of several dozen magazines. In Frazier's hands, it becomes the occasion for considering a Thomas Hardy you won't quite recognize and an Ezra Pound whose pretensions you will, because he 'had a Parisian jeweler make a solid-gold laurel wreath for him, which he wore about his temples when he attended award ceremonies of the French Academy.' If the author's account of his 'new poets' and their art seems curiously like an entertainment page piece on a stable of rap musicians, well . . . there's this on the Wystan Hugh you never knew: 'In his personal life, Auden was Peck's Bad Boy, in and out of trouble with the law. His sad gentle eyes and seamed face gave no indication of the trouble in store if you messed with him. His mother, who supported him throughout his career, always said that the literary rivals Auden shot would have done the same to him if he had given them the chance. Certainly, there was some truth in that . . . When a dispute over the acceptability of an off-rhyme led to gunplay, Auden was always the one authorities came looking for.' And what, measured against literary immortality, are the commonplace vagaries of middle age? To Frazier's shrewd eye—and in his graceful hands—they're a small window in the universal condition."—Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
"Ian Frazier is an antidote for the blues."—The Boston Globe

"Frazier is a master of the trade and for those cursed with literacy, an absolute howl."—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

"A celebrated essayist for The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, Ian Frazier knows funny. The only reason he's not a household name in mainstream America is that his wit is of the Dorothy Parker variety: dry, smart and satirical. Think Twain and Vonnegut if they'd changed diapers and blogged from Starbucks. When this wit taps into something universal, a Frazier essay can and has started e-mail wildfires. The title essay of his latest collection, 'Lamentations of the Father,' did just that a few years back. Written as a benediction filtered through the thoughts and world-weary mouth of a stay-at-home dad, it beseeches, curses and, well, laments about how and why children act in such a childlike manner. It's one of the most original, laugh-out-loud rants in a decade . . . 'Unbowed' is an inspired piece in which Frazier mocks the tabloid tradition of sensationalizing every utterance and move of our modern royalty: the movie star. Frazier opens with two real quotes from the daily trials and tribulations of Russell Crowe. From these he creates a ridiculous interview in which Crowe defends his respect and fear of bovines, elevating a small pastoral confrontation to the level of 9/11 and the war on terror. 'Sure, I could sit up on the porch all day, which is screened in and has a door that they don't know how to open, the bastards,' Crowe said. 'And yes, I'll admit that they got my attention with the noise they make, and the way they look at you, and all that slobbering. Most blokes would take one look and retreat to the equipment shed or climb on top of the pickup. But I couldn't live with myself if I did that.' This is vintage Frazier, and highlights one of his favorite literary devices—assuming the voice of pop culture icons, or placing himself in close proximity to them to make fun of modern society. Frazier shows just how dumb pop culture can be, especially when it takes itself seriously. In 'My Wife Liz,' Frazier, tongue firmly in cheek, claims to have been married to Elizabeth Taylor for a brief but blissful stretch of time. As with the devil, the humor of this essay is in the details. Frazier's colorful and extensive recall of their relationship sets up a militant campaign to get the world to recognize him in some official capacity as one of Taylor's numerous ex-husbands. When he's not skewering pop culture icons, Frazier gleefully denounces fads, subcultures and industries that he finds deserving of a verbal whipping. In 'Researchers Say,' Frazier needs only a few paragraphs to have his way with academic studies, the pharmaceutical industry and pervasive myths regarding stress-free, disease-free, death-free living. Clueless book editors, deadbeat dads, mothers who curse like sailors while sharing their favorite recipes—if you've ever carelessly participated in society (and who hasn't?), you're Frazier's fair game."—Joe Kurmaskie, The Oregonian (Portland)

"Being a funny guy doesn't always mesh with being a smart guy. In Frazier's case, however, the two seem one and the same."—The Christian Science Monitor

"Warning . . . reading [Frazier's essays] in the bathroom, on the subway, or in other heavy-traffic areas may force you to have to explain to others what's making you guffaw so loudly."—Entertainment Weekly

"At 57, the Thurber Prize-winning comic essayist and longtime New Yorker writer is regarded as one of America’s greatest humorists. His tenth book, Lamentations of the Father, contains 33 short essays, many of which are quintessentially New York as well as laugh-out-loud funny . . . The collection as a whole invokes laughter with wildlife anthropomorphizing in 'Tomorrow’s Bird' and traipses into satire on unhappy domesticity in 'The Cursing Mommy Cookbook' and 'The Cursing Mommy Christmas.' Frazier then veers into ribald territory with the curiously named 'Chinese Arithmetic,' an essay in the form of a medical log detailing his own embarrassing erections and ends the book with 'What I Am,' based on his dishwashing method (meaning: no method), which his wife lovingly declared 'idiocy.' Mr. Frazier disagreed, taking a jab at the politically correct rhetoric of the time, arguing he was, instead, 'a sufferer of idiocy.' During the interview, he added a postscript in his characteristic self-deprecating humor, 'As it turns out, my dishwashing method might have shown idiocy.' Though it took him 11 years to publish his first book, writing for the New Yorker played an invaluable role in shaping his comic writing. Even more than his father, 'making New Yorker readers—sophisticated folks—laugh is a tough accomplishment.' And getting that laugh from readers, said Mr. Frazier, is 'irreducible. Either you succeed or you fail.' In the case of his new book—and despite his lamentable dishwashing skills—he has once again succeeded."—Alyssa Pinsker, The Villager

"As serious as he is funny, Ian Frazier can deconstruct the historical accuracy of Daffy Duck with the same straight-faced relish he uses to savage corporate crooks and the 'innovative thinking' of the Bush administration. While his politics are definitely left leaning, he skewers pomposity, dogmatism and the babble of popular culture wherever it strikes his fancy—which is just about anywhere, from techno-thriller movies to the mythic figures of our time (like Russell Crowe), from the sound bite to guide book drivel, from the latest in scientific research to the ordinary family. Especially the family. The book's funniest piece—in the sense of laugh-out-loud humor rather than fiendishly clever satire—is the title piece, 'Lamentations of the Father' . . . 'The Cursing Mommy Cookbook' and 'The Cursing Mommy Christmas' start out with Martha Stewart decorum and quickly, hysterically, devolve into familiar domestic chaos. Others take a more quirky view—the tribulations of the absent expectant (maybe) father; the earnest murderer's family aspirations; coming of age among the right-wing militia. Frazier started out as a staff writer for The New Yorker in the 1970s and it shows. All his work has a strong voice and an eye for detail. From books like 1989's Great Plains, and 2000's On the Rez, personal, in-depth explorations of the past and present West and its people, to his collections of humor, like this one and the earlier Dating Your Mom and Coyote V. Acme, Frazier brings a thoughtful reflection to the world around him. His wordsmithing engages the reader's imagination."—Lynn Harnett, Seacoast Sunday

"Another hilarious collection from essayist/humorist Frazier. A longtime New Yorker—and prolific contributor to the magazine of the same name—Frazier has previously mined the city for comic gold to share stories about his encounters with strangers and interactions with his wife and children, all filtered through his self-deprecating voice. He now lives in New Jersey, where his dry humor is used to great effect, whether he's recounting his duty as household dishwasher or noting details about the FBI poster for Osama bin Laden at the post office. This book takes its title from Frazier's 1997 essay included in the Atlantic Monthly's 150th anniversary collection of best writing. Other pieces are based on recognizable current events and pop-culture icons, such as 'My Wife Liz,' full of details about the author's fictional marriage to Elizabeth Taylor: 'Some people say that there should be certain minimum standards you have to meet in order to qualify as an ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor's, and that I (and a few other guys) don't make the grade. Utter garbage!' Most of the 30-odd pieces are only a few pages long, offering up perfect snapshots of absurdities and imagined vignettes. The narrator of 'Caught'—the coyote who was trapped for two days in Central Park in 2006—takes a Holden Caulfield approach to his new-found recognition: 'If you're really interested in hearing all this, you probably first want to know where I was whelped, and what my parents' dumb burrow was like, and how they started me out hunting field mice, and all the Call of the Wild kind of crap, but I'd really rather not go into it, if that's all right with you.' Frazier is a masterful comedian whose seeming lack of overconfidence not only endears him to readers but also invites identification, particularly in humiliating situations. His sense of humor is so uncanny and surprising it's nearly impossible not to be charmed. Highly entertaining."—Kirkus Reviews   

Table of Contents
'Kisses All Around'
'Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father'
'Tomorrow's Bird'
'Little House off the Highway'
'Th-Th-That's Not All, Folks'
'My Wife Liz'
'Walking Tour'
'The American Persuasion'
'The Cursing Mommy Cookbook'
'Veni, Vidi, Arithmetic, Etc.'
'The Not-So-Public Enemy'
'The New Poetry'
'Researchers Say'
'Warmer, Warmer'
'A Cursing Mommy Christmas'
'Come Back, Suckers!'
'From Across the Pond'
'Class Notes'
'Back in the U.S.A.'
'He, the Murderer'
'No.  Please, No'
'If Memory Doesn't Serve'
'Kid Court'
'Here to Tell You'
'Chinese Arthimetic'
'Square One'
'Pensées d'Automne'
'Thin Enough'
'How to Operate the Shower Curtain'
'What I Am'

Reviews from Goodreads



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IAN FRAZIER is the author of nine books. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
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  • Ian Frazier

  • Ian Frazier is the author of seven works of nonfiction including Great Plains, Family, and On the Rez. He has also published two collections of humor writing and is a past winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he has also written for Outside and other magazines. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
  • Ian Frazier Sigrid Estrada
    Ian Frazier