I stumbled upon Mountain Man Dance Moves and was taken entirely by the word McSweeney’s, which incites a particular portion of me that delights in the esoteric and overly intellectual—the sort of self-depracating literary hauteur that give rise to the fabulous Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans and what might be my favorite it’s-funny-because-it’s-intellectual-instead-of-funny joke, “Pirate Riddles for Sophisticates.”
Mountain Man Dance Moves is little more than a collection of (generally funny) lists ostensibly selected from submissions to the McSweeney’s website. It’s a lot more narrow in scope than the aforementioned Created in Darkness, mostly because of the list format. Most entries are half a page, seeking to condense some kernel of truth down into a short list of numbered witticisms. The most common format—and my most pertinent criticism of the book is that its entries are far too formulaic—is to have an absurdly long title, and then a short series of items, all of which are funny in a slapstick or crude way except for the last, which tends to be some incendiary jab at a given subject. One example that comes to mind is about the benefits of befriending George W. Bush, which then lists the typical sort of White House humor, including stays in the Lincoln bedroom, etc., and finally ends with a lengthy item about being given a lifetime appointment to a high-level government position despite a near-criminal lack of qualification. See where this is going?
Some lists are funnier than others. Some are mere wordplay, and not even particularly funny at that—the “Pirate Riddles for Sophisticates,” which was not part of this book, follows the same formula but exceeds because of the creativity of its scenarios. When a list seeking to parody Fabergé eggs is nothing but a series of the word “Fabergé” following by another breakfast foodstuff, I am not exactly bent over by the sheer force of my laughter.
I admit that I was confused by the cover art for the book, which includes a picture of a unicorn, airbrush-style. It soon became clear that the book’s running joke was lists involving unicorns (arbitrary? or does McSweeney’s have a venerable tradition involving unicorn humor?), which fell prey to the same sort of satiric lottery as the rest of the lists: some were genuinely funny, either for the creativity of their mechanics or insightful wit, and others were just plain stupid.
It’s 224 pages, and I knocked it out in about 45 minutes. Unless you make it a point to buy anything Dave Eggers has ever breathed on, Mountain Man Dance Moves is probably not the sort of thing you’ll feel the need to rush out and buy. In terms of laughs, it was barely worth the effort to cart it home from the library. An interesting diversion, but my suggestion is that you either read McSweeney’s other humor stuff, or the magazine proper.