Pecked To Death By Ducks, by Tim Cahill
As this is the fifth book by the author I have read so far, I’m pretty familiar with his shtick. Unfortunately, this book falls towards the bottom of the author’s body of work rather than towards the top. Cahill is best when he is writing so that you are neither offended by his political and religious thoughts or envious that this tool is able to travel on the dime of other companies and make a career writing about it, but instead writing so that you are able to laugh at what a clueless buffoon he is. At his best, Cahill manages to do enviable things without provoking envy, and to be an idiot without that idiocy being offensive, but that is not the case here. Instead, this book follows the same kind of trend of Cahill’s early writings when he wrote a lot about politics and religion and made himself look less than charitable in the process. Indeed, in one essay here the author shows himself to be remarkably hostile to a premillennial religious group that had settled in Montana. I wonder what he would think about some of my coreligionists in the Eternal Church of God who settled in Montana? Probably nothing positive.
This particular book of almost 400 pages is divided into five sections with numerous essays within them. The author begins with a look at the unnatural world (I), with Kuwait burning at the end of the Gulf War, a complaint about a lack of mutilations in people who believe in paranormal phenomena, and a brag/complaint about the way that the Marquesas have failed to attract many tourists, except for the author who has now written about them at least twice. After that comes “Tooth And Claw,” which contains some of the author’s thoughts on bear, bison, and moose, as well as llama and the mountain gorilla (II). “The Natural World” allows the author to reflect on kayaking and traveling in Antarctic waters (III). In Other People’s Lives, the author gets the chance to talk about pretending to be a duck (again) in Bali, dealing with the miner’s paradox, visits to Chiloé off the coast of Chile, and the story of a missing hiker in Yellowstone (IV). Finally, in “Risk,” the author tackles paragliding, a football player’s hatred of caving, sorority sisters hiking on the ice, and a trek with the Dangerous Sports Club, apparently the inventors of bungee jumping.
It is a bit of a letdown that this book is not better than it is. In some ways, after several books of essays, the author shows himself running out of ideas and returning to subjects he had previously written about, in a sort of self-plagiarism. Likewise, after having written a few books where he made himself look incompetent in the interests of pleasing the reader, here he seems a bit more interested in writing with a political edge, and it doesn’t suite him as well as his more comic writing. Given that the author has a worldview that makes him very harsh towards conservative religious sects and tediously progressive in much of his politics, anything that encourages the author to engage in that side of his writing is not playing to his strengths but rather alienating him from potential readers. Likewise, the whole book as a whole reeks with a sort of privilege that engages in tourism while simultaneously bragging that the places the author goes to are for him but not for everyone else, seeking to preserve what is unspoiled while simultaneously spoiling it through his own presence and his writing about it in ways that would likely inspire imitation.