Book review: 'Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why' is hilarious and stingingly poignant
"Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why" by Alexandra Petri (W.W. Norton)
The first time I stumbled across an Alexandra Petri column in The Washington Post, I was giddy. Won over by the sheer unique genius of it, I imagined sharing it on Twitter. Petri would be so grateful, we would become best friends and text hilarious bon mots to each other while binge-watching smart TV.
Then I went to Twitter and saw I was 168,000 followers too late. I had no more discovered Petri than Columbus discovered the New World. We were not going to be friends. I was sad, but only for a minute. Because I now had access to this fresh and prolific voice, someone who was able to make the painful reality of our current sociopolitical dumpster fire not just very, very funny, but stingingly poignant.
Petri writes about what's happening in the world as if it's OK. (If you also think it's OK, you probably won't like this book, unless you take it at face value -- which has happened.)
Many of these columns and some new pieces are collected in Petri's book "Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why." While the essays cover the current political situation, they also delve into the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the immigration crisis, the climate crisis, the gun crisis and "How to Parent Wrong." (That list includes "Free Range Tiger Parenting," "Ironic Hipster Parenting," "Princeton Mom Parenting" and "Joan Crawford Parenting.")
Some of Petri's essays spoof classic works like "Waiting for Pivot: A GOP Tragicomedy" based on Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," and "The Privilege Tree" based on Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree."
I have far too many favorites to include here, but "Keep Scott Pruitt Moist" is one standout that skewers the Environmental Protection Agency's chief's 2018 lotion scandal, juxtaposing his role in the administration -- "he is charged, unlike other men, with the protection of the environment," Petri writes -- with his obsessively discerning taste in moisturizer.
"Scott Pruitt must have his moisturizing lotion," Petri writes. "NOT THAT ONE! That is an ordinary lotion. The lotion Scott Pruitt requires is quite rare and available only at Ritz-Carlton hotels, and not even all Ritz-Carlton hotels. Hurry, we must drive. We must find the lotion. It must be absorbed into Scott Pruitt's pores. Its scent must travel around him. He must be entirely shrouded in its scent, like Earth by carbon dioxide."
In "I'm Beginning to Suspect These Were Not, in Fact, the Best People," Petri writes from the perspective of the president as the reality of his underqualified Cabinet picks begins to dawn on him: "I thought I had the best team ever to be assembled, but I had a big coat full of skunks, six rejected concepts for Batman villains, and a disembodied voice that yells rude things in the Quiet Car.
"I thought I had the finest cadre of advisers and lawyers the earth had ever seen, but now that I look I see that all I had was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, an aardvark in a Model UN sweater, a hairpiece on top of a novelty skeleton with light-up eyes, a Mr. Monopoly Man, a paid advertisement for unscientific vitamin supplements, and a cursed Oscar statuette brought to life until someone speaks the single phrase that will allow him to sleep once more."
I read this one in bed, and I was laughing so hard, tears streaming down my bright-red face, that my child suggested I take a little break.
I would be remiss to present this is as sheer hilarity. Underneath the jokes is a reminder of the painful period we've been living through. The collection also reminds us of the vast number of terrible events that have occurred in the past few years. I almost forgot about "You Are in Melania Trump's Nightmare Forest of Cursed Red Trees. Keep to the Path."
Lately we're seeing flashes of hope. But Petri fans need not worry: If I know anything about America and humanity at large, it's that we'll always find new ways to get things wrong, which means there will never be a shortage of new topics for Petri to mock.