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Book Reviews : Even One-Liners Can't Save a Humor Theme

December 13, 1985|TAFFY CANNON | Cannon is the author of "Convictions: A Novel of the Sixties" (Morrow). and

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind by Roy Blount Jr. (Atlantic Monthly Press: $14.95)

What Roy Blount Jr., presumably did have in mind was that this collection of magazine humor pieces would come together as a cohesive, funny whole. It didn't.

The surest approach for Southern writers out to establish national reputations is to move to New York or New England and then turn out reams of prose about what they left behind and why. Georgian Blount, now settled in Mill River, Mass., falls squarely into this category. But good-ole-boy humor of the type exemplified in "Crackers," the best-known of Blount's previous four books, went out of vogue when the Carter Administration ended. In the introduction to "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind," Blount says: "This book is not about Ronald Reagan per se. . . . But what I have in mind, roughly speaking, is to pull against the President's sense of humor without losing hold of mine."

Blount himself notes that "it is hard to discuss Humor without seeming a fool." Still, it is safe to say that good written humor is about something. The shaggy dog story, at which Blount excels, is considerably funnier in a bar at midnight than spread at meandering and pointless length across the printed page.

Best Pieces Mostly Profiles

Perhaps because the subjects are already firmly established, his best pieces here are mostly profiles. He considers why he finds Erma Bombeck so appealing, presents a detailed proposal for repackaging Carl Lewis and hangs out with Bill Murray. His reminiscences of Bear Bryant are warm and fresh.

There are some perfectly splendid one-liners: "Reagan is a kind of logo, who knows as much about how the nation or the world functions as Betty Crocker knows about baking." "Andy Warhol's prophecy that eventually everyone will be famous for 15 minutes may never pan out, but it does appear that everyone will in time sing a duet with Willie Nelson." The midsections of Bill Murray and Richard Gere "do not seem to belong to the same period in history." In an otherwise rather dumb send-up of the "Paper Mountain Writers' Conference," he notes: "A sure guide: the trashier an author's themes, the more heavily muscled his right forearm."

A scattering of funny lines doesn't make a humor book, however, particularly when that book's common thread is only that it isn't exactly about Ronald Reagan. Too much of "Not Exactly What I Had in Mind" rambles aimlessly and tries too hard, as ideas that initially seemed promising go astray. And too often the "humor" that results is leaden and predictable.

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