O’Rourke’s boomer punch­lines are mostly or­di­nary, lack punch

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ger­ald Flood

P.J. (Pa­trick Jake) O’Rourke is a very funny guy who un­fail­ingly has made us laugh since 1973, when he joined and then guided Na­tional Lam­poon, the Amer­i­can satir­i­cal mag­a­zine that had a great run be­fore flam­ing out in 1998. A jour­nal­ist and au­thor of 17 pre­vi­ous books, he is the king of one-lin­ers, the Os­car Wilde of our times. One of his favourite lines, from 1993, is still fresh today in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cir­cles: “If you think health care is ex­pen­sive now, just wait un­til it’s free.” He so con­sis­tently writes zingers — usu­ally at the ex­pense of po­lit­i­cally cor­rect lib­er­als and the herd of in­de­pen­dent thinkers — that he is the most-quoted liv­ing writer in the Pen­guin Dic­tionary of Mod­ern Hu­mor­ous Quo­ta­tions. But just be­cause he can be funny about any­thing doesn’t mean that he should be. His lat­est book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Isn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again), is a case in point. The ti­tle is a tipoff. It over­reaches, try­ing to squeeze a gag out of a tired con­cept boomers them­selves had grown weary of at about the time they re­al­ized scor­ing drugs meant get­ting a pre­scrip­tion for blood thin­ners. The cen­tral idea of The Baby Boom is com­pelling: The boom gen­er­a­tion was the first ever to be al­lowed to be chil­dren — right into mid­dle age. The re­sult is a fairly rich, ed­u­cated cadre of paci­fists, who might not be mak­ing love so much any­more, but they aren’t mak­ing much war, ei­ther. Or at least that seems to be the work­ing idea.

It’s hard to tell; so much of the writ­ing is geared to set up punch­lines that the nar­ra­tive thread is lost. It’s un­clear what The Baby Boom is try­ing to achieve, beyond a pay­day. Much of the book re­volves around O’Rourke’s ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up a boomer. And that’s too bad, be­cause O’Rourke’s ex­pe­ri­ences were as or­di­nary as the ex­pe­ri­ences of the vast ma­jor­ity of boomers, who were never part of the mi­nor­ity of hip­pies who went to San Fran­cisco with flow­ers in their hair. His friends, aunts, un­cles, par­ents — all were as or­di­nary as ev­ery­one else’s. Punch­ing up the or­di­nary with one-lin­ers doesn’t make it any less or­di­nary. “The 1960s was an era of big thoughts,” he writes. “And yet, amaz­ingly, each of those thoughts could fit on a T-shirt.” Very droll. But so what? O’Rourke is at his best when he tack­les sub­stan­tial ma­te­rial with wit. Par­lia­ment of Whores, an ex­am­i­na­tion of the gov­ern­ment in the United States, or Eat the Rich, a globe-trot­ting ex­am­i­na­tion of eco­nom­ics and economies, are fas­ci­nat­ing reads, and would be page-turn­ers even with­out the hu­mour. But The Baby Boom is hu­mour with­out sub­stance — a page-plod­der, meat with­out bones, sort of like those pro­cessed chicken wings that you don’t have to chew on. Ger­ald Flood is the com­ment edi­tor

of the Win­nipeg Free Press.

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