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Will Power

Comedian Eugene Mirman gets more mileage out of the asides in parody of self-help books.

The gold standard for Eastern European culture clash literary humor is Gary Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan,” but that’s a comic novel and it might not be reasonable to expect comedian Eugene Mirman to reach that high in his self-help book parody, “The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life.”

Mirman isn’t really aiming for that level, anyway. Still, the best laughs come from the asides, graphic elements and other little side features, rather than the exposition text. It’s just a stray line here or there that will really get you at unexpected points.

Take, for example, part of a quiz that asks “Is it okay to go the roof of the tallest building in your town and jerk off into the street?” Or even little explanations of pulled out quotes from the author himself, like one billed as “Eugene Mirman, 1995, addressing the U.N., to their surprise and dismay.” Or the following, the most “Absurdistan”-like in style : “‘Sorry about your continent, but it’s time to make money.’ -- from Mr. Business Means Business, Mirman’s economic plan that rekindled Europe’s economy after World War II.”

These little bits hint at what Mirman does carry through this whole parody book -- the conception of himself as an all-knowing expert, undermined by the little amusing things the character who is a version of himself lays out at times, like “I don’t think you should invest in commodities. Eddie Murphy made it seem risky in Trading Places” or obviously implausible anachronisms, like “A young senator came to me one Tuesday afternoon and said, ‘I want to be the next president of the United States.’ I looked at him, made him get into a sensory deprivation tank and answer a few deceptively simple questions, and after about an hour I said, ‘Okay, kid, let’s do this.’ That person, of course, was John F. Kennedy.”

So reading through “The Will to Whatevs” in straightforward fashion, you will chuckle and be amused, but it’s really the quick jokes (like the promotional headlines on its cover) rather than the concept told through the prose that will really stick with you.

   

   

     

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