The bulk of the material in Veronica Geng's Love Trouble has been published twice -- first in the New Yorker, where she worked as a writer and editor from 1975 to 1993, and later in the collections Partners and Love Trouble Is My Business. The third rendering of Geng's work (second for the volume's final 15 essays) finds it none the worse for wear; her particular brand of subtly caustic satire warrants repeat performance. But Love Trouble is also more than the sum of its humor pieces. Published almost two years after the death of its author (at 56, of a brain tumor), the book is a chronicle of sorts of Geng's life, a self-portrait of one of the best-regarded humorists of the past few decades.
"Veronica wrote pieces of the highest literary ambition and complexity that were also so funny they could make you laugh out loud. The ability to do that is as remarkable as being able to hit a major-league curve ball, although statistically more rare," Ian Frazier writes in his introduction to his friend and colleague's work. Reading his preamble, infused as it is with unabashed love and admiration, makes you want to give Geng's take on politics, the media and pulp fiction more than the passing glance magazine columns usually get. And indeed, many of the pieces deserve more: There is Geng on singles poetry groups: "In the room the women come and go/Talking of someone who might be tall and share their enthusiasm for theater"; Geng on stylish New York couples: "Artist Marie Bane (25) and collector Morton Braine (30) dress in simple, bold fabric wrappings -- colorful bolts and mill ends layered directly onto the skin with rubber cement"; Geng as Raymond Chandler: "I glanced over at the dame sleeping next to me, and all of a sudden I wanted some other dame, the way you see Mr. Reagan on TV and all of a sudden get a yen to read Proust."
Whether the essays, divided chronologically into three sections -- "Partners" (1984), "Love Trouble Is My Business" (1988) and "New Stories" (1987-1996) -- form any sort of cohesive work (they don't) is beside the point: There's a disarming haphazardness to the whole thing. It's only enhanced by Geng's postscripts to each of the second section's essays, in which she divulges both the origin of the piece -- usually a newspaper clipping -- and the internal life that lent it its peculiar slant. Good writing is mostly instinctual, and Geng's satire is no exception; what she does is only marginally explicable. Still, the look inside her mind is compelling, as much for aspiring satirists as for readers who find themselves increasingly curious about the mind in which all of this clever wackiness incubated.
That the collection's final essay is also the last Geng would ever write adds a solemnity to a book that was never meant to be solely about laughing out loud anyway. One can't help but think that Love Trouble is exactly the memorial the author would have wanted. -- Salon
This collection of short satiric pieces comprises the oeuvre of the late Geng, a writer and editor for the New Yorker from 1976 to 1993. A compilation of two previously published collections, Partners and Love Trouble Is My Business, as well as newer work, this book confirms Geng as one of the most brilliant and encompassing satirists of the last few decades, providing readers unfamiliar with her writing with a concise volume of her caustic wit. Geng skewers the media, literature, sports and economics, but she's at her best when tackling political topics. From imagining the Nixon tapes as though they were a record being reviewed in the Village Voice to a Yankees trade of Bucky Dent for Republican Jack Kemp, Geng's pieces are wickedly smart, whimsically structured and multilayered. Taking a clipping or quote as inspiration, Geng free-associates to flesh out the contours of her signature diatribes. An interesting addition to the volume, as well as its one inconsistency, is an addendum tacked onto the end of each piece of Love Trouble Is My Business explaining its origin. Many of these function as self-consciously clear windows into Geng's thought processes and her friends' input (most notably, Ian Frazier, who also wrote the introduction), as well as hints of the climate of the New Yorker during the end of William Shawn's reign. The collected work of this master of "the epigrammatic genre" is a satisfying treat. (May)
When Geng died in 1997, the literary world lost a great satirist. Geng's work appeared in The New Yorker from 1976 until 1993; this collection includes stories from her first two books, Partners (LJ 7/84) and Love Trouble Is My Business (1988), as well as 15 new pieces that skewer government, gender relations, romance, and academia, among other topics. Some are hilarious, while others are subtly obscure; this is sophisticated, cosmopolitan humor. "More Mathematical Diversions" describes a schoolgirl's game called Ortho, which "makes use of a perforated plastic case containing 21 disk-shaped counters." The player moves from a safe to unsafe position depending on her memory. "The game's centuries-old popularity is attested to in many historical references. The Phoenicians called it the Maze of Venus, and it was familiar to the Anglo-Saxons as a pastime called Preggers." A wicked, surreal look at life, best suited to larger public libraries and academic libraries.--Kathy Ingels Helmond, Indianapolis- Marion Cty. P.L.
A grab-bag of work by the late New Yorker writer whose earlier volumes (Partners, 1984; Love Trouble Is My Business, 1988) are included here in their entirety, along with 16 previously uncollected pieces. Geng's writings are a good example of what was considered top-notch humor at the New Yorker during the last days of editor William Shawn, and they will serve to attract or repel readers along exactly the same lines that the magazine itself once did. Much of the work, it must be said, is more clever than funny, relying to a large degree on absurd juxtapositions (a hard-boiled detective who talks about Proust in "Love Trouble Is My Business"; an excruciatingly pompous wedding announcement relating the details of a marriage solemnized at "the First Episcopal Church of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey" in "Partners") or equally absurd historical events (George Bernard Shaw meeting Lyndon Johnson in "Settling an Old Score"). So much of the humor, in fact, relies on understanding just what is being satirized that many of the pieces are plainly incoherent to the uninitiated. "My Dream Team," for instance, seems to be written either in the form of a police report, an EEOC complaint, or a passage from the Congressional Record. Anyone already a fan of Geng's will find plenty to enjoy here, but it's unlikely to win her many new admirers.