You Have to Fucking Eat, by Adam Mansbach: Not F*cking Funny

Likely Stories[Editor’s note: Readers with delicate sensibilities should know that the f-word is used 15 times in this post.]

I’ll admit it, I thought Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep (2011) was funny—the first time. Any sleep-deprived parent who has suffered months or even years of difficult bedtimes and nighttime wake-ups knows the deep frustration that entails, and the sometimes wildly inappropriate thoughts that flit through our addled brains. Hearing someone else say it and, even better, seeing someone else set it down on paper in the form of a sweet little bedtime story definitely made me laugh.

You Have to Fucking Eat by Adam MansbachAs I said—the first time. The book felt like something you’d riff on late at night, with friends, over a couple of drinks perhaps, worth a smile the next morning but quickly forgotten. But then the book blew up, was translated into many languages, and made Mansbach a #1 New York Times best-seller. (I wonder if the fact that this has been the most successful of his many writing efforts keeps him up at night?) By the umpteenth mention of the book, it felt like the joke that yes, I know, I heard it already. And it didn’t get better with age.

I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bullshit. Stop Lying.
Lie the fuck down, my darling, and sleep.

We get it. There was even an audio version with Samuel L. Jackson narrating. Perfect choice for the voice, sure, but necessary? (I haven’t googled this, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that someone optioned the film rights.)

And now we have the sequel, publishing today: You Have to Fucking Eat. It begins:

The sunrise is golden and lovely,
The birds chirp and twitter and tweet,
You woke me and asked for some breakfast,
So why the fuck won’t you eat?

The formula is absolutely the same as the last book, 28 pages that plod endlessly toward the big gag at the end:

I’m pretty sure that you’re malnourished
And scurvied. My failure’s complete.
But on the bright side, maybe this is the night
You’ll go the fuck to sleep.

See what he did there? I can’t believe I’m saying this about a book published by Akashic Books, an independent press that I absolutely adore and respect, but You Have to Fucking Eat exemplifies everything that’s wrong with American popular entertainment. We take the slightest whiff of humor or originality and then, excuse me, beat it to fucking death. The key element of transgressive humor is surprise, something that was at least available to the first book. With this book, however, we know what’s coming, and the only surprising thing about this leaden recitation of hackneyed verse liberally sprinkled with F-bombs is that it took so long to appear. It’s not even remotely funny. It might as well be titled We Want Your Fucking Dollars.

You Have to Fucking Eat exemplifies
everything that’s wrong with
American popular entertainment.

Reading this book, which I regret, reminds me of the hundreds of unfunny Saturday Night Live sketches I’ve endured over the decades. I probably watch that show once or twice a year and yet the same comedic poverty almost inevitably appears after the 20-minute mark: some wacky characters are given an absurd premise and absolutely nowhere to run with it, so they repeat the same joke with subtle variations three or five times until a commercial puts an end to their, and our, misery.

But the worst thing about this book isn’t how unfunny it is. The worst thing is how mean-spirited it is. Again, the first book, on first read, was worth a cathartic laugh, tapping into the awful things parents sometimes think but dare not say. But doing a second book legitimizes those awful things and says, yes, this deserves a place in our culture’s comic vocabulary. Because it’s fun to swear at kids!

If you’re going to go as far as Go the Fuck to Sleep and You Have to Fucking Eat, then I guess more books are inevitable: Clean Your Fucking Room and Do Your Fucking Homework, Shithead, and I Said Mow the Fucking Lawn!

But it all adds up to one big Fuck You, Kid.

And to me, that’s not fucking funny.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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