Mere Anarchy
by Woody Allen

(Random House)

Woody Allen has a timeless appeal for cinema audiences around the world. His unique brand of neurotic humor and non sequitur-styled dialogue is omnipresent in everything he touches. Mere Anarchy is no exception.

The collection of what Allen calls "essays," though they are arguably more in the realm of high concept stories, begins, "Gasping for air, my life passing before my eyes in a series of wistful vignettes, I found myself suffocating some months ago under the tsunami of junk mail that cascades through the slot in my door each morning after kippers. It was only our Wagnerian cleaning woman, Grendel, hearing a muffled falsetto from beneath myriad art-show invitations, charity squeezes, and pyrite contest jackpots I'd hit that extricated me with the help of our Bugsucker." The prose never becomes less Allen-esque, synonymous, here, with dense and over-zealous, like wading in Jell-o. Allen's usual pop-culture referencing, rambling, self-absorbed, faux-intellectualizing prose saturates Mere Anarchy. Removed from the film medium his writing seems to, at times, lack direction, focus and meaning. (Though, the same could be said of his films in the last decade.)

The "essays" are stories based upon clippings from various newspapers and magazines, mostly the New York Times, most with the actual clippings included. His chosen format implicitly begins with social commentary, as he muses on American life in fictive worlds. "The snob value of the rare white truffle hit new heights in London on Saturday with a 2.6-pound specimen selling at auction for $110,000. It went to an unidentified buyer in Hong Kong," reads the New York Times clipping introducing his story, "How Deadly Your Taste Buds my Sweet." It is the story of an amateur sleuth who is hired to retrieve a truffle from an auction for a wealthy client. While the humor often succeeds, the commentary feels weak, forced, and worn-out. In Mere Anarchy, the world of Woody Allen looms as fantastical as that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but fails to draw the reader into his false reality. The effect ultimately feels unsubstantial and incomplete.

The book is nothing new or surprising to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Allen's writing or films, yet where the politics fail his humor remains consistent. The collection is witty and humorously engaging-though you may need an encyclopedia of modern allusions to follow his meandering plot lines. The stories, for the most part, hold up as small apolitical witticisms on the modern America. But in a market saturated with books of this, reference-saturated candor, whose authors' commentary feels more rooted in the `everyday' of America (Lethem's The Disappointment Artist, DeLillo's Falling Man, Ander Monson's Neck Deep), a case cannot be made for the necessity of Mere Anarchy. Without the name recognition, Allen would probably find himself in the same spot as his fictional author, Flanders Mealworm, whose book was "remaindered in the kindling section."

- Dustin L. Nelson