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Book Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

You know you're riding pop culture's biggest wave when Knopf publishes excerpts from your literary journal. That's the case here, as Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans is "the best of McSweeney's humor category." McSweeney's, you see, is the journal published by David Eggers out of San Francisco.

So you know it's cool, but does that make it funny? Sort of.

Some parts induce chuckling in the way that only life's strange little moments can: Alysia Gray Painter's "Candle Party" recreates the kind of cringe-inducing experience everyone has to go through at one time or another -- "I want to see a show of hands here, who loves candles?"

Other entries are funny for their over-the-top geekiness: J.M. Tyree's "On the Implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor" is a great example. "I would have designed a special garbage ship," he writes, "instead of employing a crude, cumbersome, and inefficient (to say nothing of unsanitary) compactor-worm combo to deal with the trash.")

Some are extremely clever for their mixing and matching of pop cultural references: Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell imagine an audio commentary track by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn for The Lord of the Rings DVD. "Zinn: The orcs have no resources. They're desperate. Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things."

And some are just plain weird, in a good way: Chris Bachelder's "My Beard, Reviewed" is a series of customer ratings for his beard. "It's a hilarious beard, but it's also sad and touching. This girl beside me was crying because the beard was so emotional."

Many pages, however, are just way too precious to be funny. You will laugh out loud a few times (Arthur Bradford's "The Bet" is the best of the bunch), but there's a lot of padding here, too.

Of course this thin volume has the feel of cashing in on a hot trend, but there is some real talent behind all the hype. This brand of humor is intelligent, very dry and offbeat. You could feel a little ripped off for buying it, but come holiday season, it would make a great gift for that hipster on your list.

Publication date: 09/16/04

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