Lenny Bruce divided the world into two halves, Jewish and Goyish. Fruit salad, said Lenny, was Jewish; lime Jell-O, Goyish. What's this got to do with Veronica Geng, a writer for The New Yorker? Not much, except that if, among urban (and urbane) humorists, Fran Lebowitz is fruit salad, then Veronica Geng is lime Jell-O. This is not meant to be a snide comparison. Her compilation of 29 satiric pieces, covering everything from Richard Nixon to Henry James, is ultra-tart, bright chartreuse lime Jell-O, the kind that makes you pucker. (Okay, so Jell-O does not make you pucker. But lime does. Anyway, you get the idea.)
You don't have to be gentile to love Geng's sendups. For example, there's her memoir, inspired by the unbuttoned lips of mistresses of Dwight Eisenhower and William Faulkner, entitled "My Mao," in which she describes their first time together:
"With his famous economy of expression, he embraced me and taught me the Ten Right Rules of Lovemaking: Reconnoiter, Recruit, Relax, Recline, Relate, Reciprocate, Rejoice, Recover, Reflect, and Retire. I was surprised by his ardor, for I knew the talk that he had been incapacitated by a back injury in the Great Leap Forward."
Geng is at her best when she is mocking money, politics, journalism and popular culture. The title piece manages to cover all these bases in a series of newspaper wedding reports. To wit:
"Daisy Ciba Lauderdale of Boston was married at the Presbyterian Church and Trust to Gens Cosnotti, a professor of agribusiness at the Massachusetts State Legislature . . . The bride, an alumna of the Royal Doulton School and Loot University, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Harvester Lauderdale . . . Her previous marriage ended in pharmaceuticals. Professor Cosnotti's previous marriage ended in a subsequent marriage. His father, the late Artaud Cosnotti, was a partner in the Vietnam War . . ."
Nor does she limit her spoofs to things American. There is a delicious parody of Oriana Fallaci called "Buon Giorno, Big Shot," in which the interviewer arrives at the Hotel Omnipotente with a predisposition to dislike Signor X ("God, the man is not goodlooking!"). Just as funny is the script of "Masterpiece Tearjerker," in which, during previous episodes "we saw Lord Randolph Crust committing a really disastrous gaffe by accidentally setting fire to Devonshire House while showing off his electrical Boer War set . . ."
There are not a whole lot of out-loud guffaws in "Partners"; Geng is too dry for that. Some of her longer pieces, such as her Jamesian "The Sacred Front," are clever but run out of gas after a few pages. Still, the gal's got a lot of style. Even her name sounds suspiciously funny, like a play on Erica Jong, or an introduction to a takeoff on Archie comics. And she has what all real satirists have: an ear with perfect pitch. Whether she's having her way with Pete Hamill in "A Man Called Jose'," or just about any member of the House of Representatives in "Report From Your Congressman," she hoists her subjects on their own non sequiturs. While she does miss occasionally, as in her rewrite of the Newsweek "five heartland families" anniversary issue, she misses with great daring. The latter piece, called "Coming Apart at the Semes," is redone in the style of a "quarterly forum for discourse on artistic praxis and those who praxe it." Pretty nervy, this Geng.
What does all the punning add up to? There is no new sensibility here, as there was when Lebowitz made her lowlife, high-camp hardcover debut. There is no great political thrust, although, as usual in comedy, Republicans fare worse than Democrats. Still, "Partners" is fun. Just when you thought there were no more laughs in Watergate, Geng comes up with "Record Reviews," a la the Village Voice, in which the tapes, featuring "the rhythmically haunting Latinfluence of former house band Liddy and His Cubans," are reissued as "The Benefit Concert" by Nixon, Dean & Haldeman on the Creep label.
And Geng's humor is cumulative; when I found myself thumbing back and giggling at the dedication ("To my brother, Steve") I realized she'd hooked me. This book is the perfect gift for pencil-thin male and female Yuppies of all religious persuasions who know first-class lime Jell-O when they taste it.