Picks and Pans Review: Give War a Chance
In his Rolling Stone stories as well as such previous books as Republican Party Reptile and Parliament of Whores, O'Rourke has gone to considerable lengths to disprove the maxim that there is no such thing as a political conservative with a sense of humor. He seems to protest too much. More to the point, he seems to protest not funny enough. As the self-consciously ironic title of this collection suggests, O'Rourke is a limp and juvenile writer—Hunter S. Thompson's do-gooder twin.
At times, O'Rourke appears to be aiming more at Dave Barry territory, though as a satirist and commentator, O'Rourke can't carry Barry's floppy disk. And as a reporter, he shows a glazed eye and a frat boy's propensity to obsess over beer.
O'Rourke's callow pieces on the Gulf War have a look-Ma-I've-seen-a-gun! quality, reflecting no understanding of the pain—or even the black humor—of war. He describes one Saudi colonel by saying "He looked like a cross between Omar Sharif and Mr. Potato Head." The Kuwaiti Resistance, he says, was "a teenage dream come true. Bad guys invade your neighborhood, and you and your best friends get to stay out late, kill them, skip school and impress girls."
Even with simpler subjects O'Rourke can't wring a laugh out of that perfect sitting duck, Dr. Ruth. Puzzling over her popularity, he is reduced to attacking the people who phone her call-in TV show: "Is life so empty of solace and aid that these poor folk must call up a shrimpy TV personality and wail lamentation via satellite link?"
The liveliest essay is "Hunting the Virtuous—and How to Clean and Skin Them," a vigorous, if iron-handed, attack on liberals, whom O'Rourke seems to confuse with faddists or maybe just infomercial watchers: "Liberal self-obsession is manifested in large doses of quack psychoanalysis, crank spiritualism, insalubrious health fads and helpless self-help seminars."
The book has a redeeming quality: It is only 233 pages long. But it still mainly serves to raise the question, Where is that crusty old William F. Buckley Jr. when you need him? (Atlantic Monthly, $20.95)