Monday, March 15, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: I Shudder

I Shudder: And Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey I Shudder: And Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey by Paul Rudnick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book would have been ten times more enjoyable if it eliminated all of the biographical entries and read straight through the chapters subtitled "An Excerpt from the Most Deeply Intimate and Personal Diary of One Elyot Vionnet." As it is written, I Shudder ends up as an amalgamation of David Sedaris-type writing that doesn't quite hit the mark, in part because the chapters are so chronologically ill-ordered, because they are interrupted by these fictional "diary" chapters (which I actually ended up preferring to the real-life accounts), and . . . well . . . because Paul Rudnick is not David Sedaris. Rudnick has his own way of recounting humorous moments, but he also tends to get caught up in reciting we-were-here-doing-this details that slow down the narrative and put set the humor off pace. Once the reader starts skipping paragraphs, it's hard to get them laughing again.

The chapters from the "diary of Elyot Vionnet," however, are downright hilarious. The narrator--Elyot Vionnet--is fully developed and has a very clear voice (almost too clear, to the point of annoying the reader with his attitude, in fact). The details of the narrative are poignant and support exactly the points the character is trying to make as he narrates each episode in his life. This is clearly the stronger section of the book and, had it been developed and published independently, may have reached an entirely different sort of audience than I Shudder did.

All in all, Rudnick's work is certainly not a waste of time. David Sedaris and Billy Bryson fans would enjoy the book, along with book junkies who love reading about life and culture in the Big Apple. After all, there's nothing like living in and writing from Jersey to make a NY reader shudder.

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