Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Cruel Shoes

I didn’t take philosophy in college.  The little exposure I’ve had to philosophical ideas has made my brain hurt.  So I don’t know nearly enough about it to think that knowing anything about philosophy would have made reading Steve Martin’s early work funny to me.  I also don’t know that not knowing anything about it is what made it not funny.  But based on what I’ve been reading in my research on this manuscript I’m guessing that may be the case.

I picked up this book thinking that it fell into the humor genre.  Not necessarily low-brow comedy, but simple enough that laugh out loud moments would be plentiful and I could knock out a few micro-stories without much effort.  Having finished this book I would now categorize it as surreal humor.  There were so many non-sequiturs, absurd situations and plain old nonsense that most stories left me in a state of confusion.  The end result is that instead of the “hah!” I was expecting I was most often left with a “huh?” instead.

Being so thoroughly confused by all this, I looked into this book in particular and Steve Martin’s early work in general.  I came across a very telling quote that Wikipedia copied from a 1982 Rolling Stones interview with Steve.  When discussing his history Steve brought up the fact that he studied philosophy in college and that it changed the way he thought about everything.  He said “In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up".  That quote explains this book better than I ever could.

I’ve seen clips of Steve Martin’s stand up and laughed uproariously.  I read countless articles that list him as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time.  I’ve been a fan of his movies for my entire life and loved the Jerk so much it makes me want to cry.  And there are elements in all of those that are very similar to the style of this book- the absurd, the out of nowhere twists, the uncomfortable laughing moments.  But for some reason that I don’t understand it just didn’t translate in this book.

Perhaps years from now when I’ve learned more through further reading and other endeavors I shall take to try to keep myself from the black hole of stupidity I will re-read this book and find the humor.  But as of now I think I’m too stupid to get it.

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