Orlean's premise is inspired: that Saturday night occupies a unique segment of our time-oriented culture, that we cultivate all sorts of myths and prejudices about that day of the week, particularly as it relates to the pursuit of fun. "Being alone on a Saturday night." she writes, "is different from being alone on any other night of the week."
When she sticks to that subject, this book of essays about how various people spend their Saturday nights is fun and thought-provoking. Her list of pop songs about Saturday night, for instance, combines a trivia test with insight into how much we burden the evening with unwonted expectations. (Think, for example, of Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night.")
At times, though, Orlean seems to have despaired of finding enough to talk about and to have decided that digression was the better part of valor. Her long discussion of the quinceañera, the coming-out ceremony among Mexican-American teen-age girls in Phoenix, for instance, gets further away from the point with every sentence.
Orlean, a free-lancer whose writing has appeared in the New Yorker and Vogue, is also addicted to similes and metaphors. A European countess who's the honoree at a ludicrous New York society party is "one of those people whose visits didn't come and go without notice, just the way a visit by a grizzly to a Yosemite campground would probably not go without notice." Some suburbanites "pine for a Saturday night baby-sitter the way prison inmates might pine for a metal hacksaw." Because of its liberal fireworks laws, Wyoming is "as renowned among the explosive minded as Louisiana probably is among people who would like to marry their 13-year-old cousins."
However distantly related they are to Saturday night, though, a lot of the essays are fascinating on their own. And one point Orlean does make is that nobody should really feel diminished if they don't go out on Saturday night. So if some weekend you can't find anyone to go to a movie or go bowling with, and Saturday Night Live is into reruns, it would be only prosaic justice to curl up with a chapter or two of this book as you wait for Sunday morning to come around. Then you can get on with your life. (Knopf, $19.95)