15 January 2006

Talk to the Hand: Rants, Shoots and (Rudely) Leaves

Talk to the Hand #?*! The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. Lynne Truss. Gotham Books, 2005.

Cam's Concise Critique: A long-winded bellyache on our bad manners. An arrogant, unhumorous look at the fall of western civilization brought about by cell phones, traffic jams, tv, and poor customer service that offers trite examples of the problems without offering real solutions.

My Rating: Skip it.

Review: In her first book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss elevated a spot-on, sincere rant to a book-length argument against improper grammar. In her second book, Talk to the Hand, Truss tries to ride on the coattails of her earlier success to rage against a decay in manners throughout society. However, far from writing an enjoyable sequel to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Truss has delivered a long, ill-humored, unoriginal whine about how the world is falling apart due to the unruly, ill-mannered Visigoths rallying at the gates, talking on their cells phones, and screaming "Eff-off" at the slightest offense. Society is bad and all that, but Truss' book, in the end, is an arrogant and rude diatribe.

Although there are feeble attempts at appearing scholarly -- Truss quotes repeatedly from other works decrying the fate of Western Civ and includes a 3 page bibliography -- the book seems padded, little more than a term paper bloated by quotations to meet a word count. Little in this book is original. Who hasn't complained about the insincerity of the customer service voice mail that repeatedly claims 'We're sorry for your wait'? About the woman who describes her recent surgery to the disembodied, never-present listener on the other end of the cell phone while seated at the next table in a restaurant? About the world-weary, road-raging driver who displays the "You're # 1 sign" when cut off in traffic?

As for being humorous? Standup comics have done a better job of portraying our anti-social failings. They usually are funny; Ms. Truss is not. A comic will point out our flaws and we laugh at the universal truths of our failings. While some bits in Ms. Truss' book are funny, she tries to rally the reader to be like her, to see himself as a curmudgeonly fuss-budget who staunchly stands with Truss in believing that all of culture is being flushed down the toilet with little hope for redemption. Salvation lies with those who are above the offending manners marauders. But, even when she tries to find commonality with the offenders, her faux offended persona falls short of holding up a mirror to our failings. We may indeed be like the examples of Rudeness Incarnate in her book, but with the whining, belly-aching, assault Truss presents, one reads this book hoping not to be as arrogant and contemptuous of others as she is.

The reader who enjoyed Eats, Shoots and Leaves should not waste her time with Talk to the Hand. You will miss Ms. Truss' ability to take the mundane and make it laughable. But, you won't forget about Eats, Shoots and Leaves as you read this. Ms. Truss mentions the earlier work throughout her new book, least you forget that she is skilled at ranting humorously about society. This helps to lengthen her short, magazine-length complaint to its published book length form.

This book neither amuses or instructs. It adds no new insights as to why people behave how they do. It presents no real solutions to the issues presented. The 'flame of hope' offered at the beginning is lamely summarized in the last one and 1/2 pages of the book: we should be kind and friendly and polite.....and roll our eyes and smugly smirk at those who don't realize we are trying to rescue the ill-mannered from themselves.

No comments: