208 pages
ISBN 0-385-64831-1
DDC 081





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Canadian expatriate David Rakoff lives in Manhattan and is a regular
contributor to the New York Times Magazine. Many of the 15 pieces in
Fraud were originally written for Public Radio International’s This
American Life and magazines like GQ and Outside, but have been revised
for the collection.

A unifying thread is the fish-out-of-water experience. Rakoff—a
neurotic, gay, Jewish, dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker—climbs a mountain
with macho companions in New Hampshire, investigates Scotland’s
mythical Loch Ness monster and Iceland’s equally mythical
rock-dwelling “Hidden People,” works on a kibbutz, acquires
wilderness skills at a survival school, and checks into a New Age
retreat where one of the instructors is the perpetually tardy Steven
Seagal, movie star–cum–aikido master. Closer to home Rakoff plays a
villain on a daytime soap opera, profiles four Austrians imported to
teach math and science at a Brooklyn high school, and poses as Sigmund
Freud in a department-store window during the Christmas shopping season.

The book’s jacket blurbs are deservedly effusive. One describes the
author as “[t]he love child of J.S. Perelman and Elaine May, the
by-blow of Benchley and Parker without his bay window and her bad
habits.” Indeed, rapier wit is a keynote of Rakoff’s style. The
“ungainly potatolike” hiking boots he’s obliged to wear on his
descent of Mount Monadnock inspire this speculation: “the shoes I
wouldn’t be caught dead in might actually turn out to be the shoes I
am caught dead in.” His coping strategy for travel via a “tiny
plane”? “I tear my medicine cabinet apart like Billie Holliday and
still only uncover one Xanax.”

Darker subject matter, such as Rakoff’s treatment for Hodgkin’s
disease at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, receives much the
same light touch, a strategy consonant with his ruefully confessed habit
of “deflecting every emotion with repartee.”


Rakoff, David., “Fraud,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,