The War Against Boredom: Short Stories, Riffs, and Insanities
By Seth Kaufman
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Seth Kaufman’s War Against Boredom is a great antidote to a Kardashianized landscape of selfie-sticks, ISIS attacks, and billionaire presidential wannabes. With lacerating satire, these short stories, riffs, and other insanities will make you laugh. With the nightly news a cavalcade of ideological camp on the campaign trial and a never-ending atrocity exhibition overseas, laughter is becoming yet another scarce commodity. While the likes of the late David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Neal Stephenson pen Big Damn Novels about Big Important Ideas, Kaufman occupies a different comedic frequency. Instead of an attempt to scale Parnassus to write The Great American Novel, Kaufman seeks to use the slings and arrows of satire and parody. His short stories, riffs, and other insanities should tickle the fancy for those who used to read Mad Magazine or delight in the foul-mouthed hilarity of Jerry Stahl and Bill Hicks.
Kaufman’s writing collected here range from the absurd to the sublime. The satire is black and scabrous, but not necessarily mean-spirited. “Song of My Selfies” is a stand-out piece, referencing Walt Whitman’s encyclopedic epic of poetic egotism, it also makes light of selfie-sticks. As in his previous novel, The King of Pain, Kaufman utilizes the postmodernist literary toolbox for hilarious results. In this case, “Song of My Selfies” has photographs of Seth Kaufman (the real one), but the commentary is of a self-absorbed insufferable douchebag named “Seth Kaufman.” The fictional “Seth” photographs himself while neglecting the lives of friends and family.
“The Brooklyn Invitational Nobel Prize for Literature Fantasy Draft” smashes together the sports story and the Nobel Prize for Literature odds game. The tone is deliciously schizophrenic, toggling between the hallowed reverence for literary geniuses and turning the whole thing into an exercise of sports betting.
Kaufman also riffs on dystopian movies, stoner movies, and modern fashion. He parodies movie pitches with an uncanny accuracy for today’s trends and fads. Although this might come easy for Kaufman, since he used to write for TVGuide.com. “Bags That Could Save The World” pokes holes in liberal do-gooder-ism in the fashion industry. Inspired by fashion designer Marc Jacobs’s desire to help people past their grief in the post-9/11 world with the help of designer handbags. “Well the idea here is to make a bag so great, you have to stop killing to get it. I’m thinking of the ultimate bag here, exclusively made to stop the madness in Darfur.” While the world has plenty of tragedy and carnage that needs to be stopped, are creating luxury handbags really the means to stop it?
Not to be outdone, Kaufman includes a fake personality test premised on whether or not you, the reader, could withstand a sex scandal. There’s letters to a dream analyst and a description of the ultimate hipster hang-out, Cafe Shhhh. It presents the best type of atmosphere: not being bothered by other people and their First World Problems.
Seth Kaufman is a modern master of comedy, from parody to satire. Like the age we live in, it’s rather dark and bleak, but sometimes you need to take a step back and laugh at the pure absurdity of it all. For those restlessly awaiting the second season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, read The War Against Boredom for a few chuckles.
Out of 10/9.0