Jules Does

Jules Does Books: Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Posted on: September 23, 2012

My first encounter with David Rakoff was, lamentably, his obituary. It was his connection with David Sedaris which piqued my interest, and I’m glad it did.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable is, as its long subtitle will tell you, a collection of essays dealing with “the indignities of coach class, the torments of low thread count, the never-ending quest for artisanal olive oil, and other first world problems”, and it handles its subjects in a way which is incisive yet simultaneously gentle.

Rakoff is very much rooted in his situation as a gay Jew living in New York in the aftermath of 9/11, which reverberates even four years after the event in Rakoff’s bleakly humourous style. Although he approaches every event with the same level of dark scrutiny and wit, the resulting impression of various people can be very different. The Central Park forager strikes me as being noble but sad, the gay Republican as deluded but tenacious, the Hooters Air hostesses as more aware of themselves than many would expect. The essays, like many humourous essays in the Sedaris vein, begin at one unexpected adventure and close with a deeper revelation, the most obvious and poignant being the poetic meditation on America generally and New York specifically brought on by attending a performance of ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ (don’t taint your browser history, I’ve done it for you, and can now expect some very odd adverts).

While the essays can be grouped under the general theme of ‘possibly self-indulgent and/or pointless pursuits of middle- to upper-class people either in America or working for an American company’, some of the pieces don’t really seem to belong, or undermine the general tone of the book, which is one of general lament for the hyperbolic excess in which we choose to drown ourselves in order to avoid facing our inevitable deaths on a rock in the middle of space. Not all of us are empty, seeking to fill that emptiness with chicken wings and desperately rare varieties of salt. For example, the essay in which Rakoff describes a wonderfully complicated treasure hunt done around New York at night in teams with strangers sounds amazing and fun, not depressing and indicative of society’s desolation. On the contrary, it is a redeeming feature, as is the aforementioned forager’s attempts to gather food for his family in public parks.  The piece focussing on the efforts of the Log Cabin Republicans to promote gay rights under the Bush regime treated its subejcts with intense bewilderment, which I found a bit short-sighted. The Log Cabin Republicans may be fighting an uphill battle (if the hill’s angle to the plain was 90 vertical degrees and covered in angry spikes) but their tenacity, as well as their efforts to reform the party they love rather than abandon it to its inevitable implosion, could have been treated with more respect, rather than head-shaking sadness with a dollop of rage.

It’s a shame that Rakoff passed away so young and with so much more to say, but after reading this I’ll certainly be checking out his other books.


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