Inhis last book, Fear of Frying and Other Fax of Life, Josh Freed dealt with second hand steak fumes, fat cats and beuracrats, and chronicled his battle with a ferocious flock of pigeons led by Attila the hen. With his latest work, Press 1 and Pray: And Other Lessons from Voice Jail (VThicule Press,157 pages, $16.00 tpb ISBN: 1550651439), Freed has found other dilemmas and pitfalls to overcome including ice storm survivor guilt, cross-border shopping for "gas and a bypass", "electronic highway robbery", the haphazard information superhighway, lead-footed language police, neckties, gardening, roughing it in the bush and a number of everyday catastroph.
Freed is best known for his Saturday column in the Montreal Gazette, a column which yielded him the National Newspaper Award in 1997 for best columnist. There is nothing that the discerning eyes of this Leacock Award-winning humourist don't probe¨gender stereotypes, the differences between anglophones and francophones, Canada's deteriorating healthcare system, the state of the Canadian dollar, technology, fast food, even the weather. Throughout the collection Freed displays his ability to find the humour that lurks in the shadows of just about everything, no matter how seemingly mundane. If you can name it, Freed can find the humour in it.
Able to see the light scratching beneath any dark surface, Freed even pokes fun at his health problems. He's nasally challenged (you have to shove something up his nose for him to smell it), an insomniac, a sufferer of "multiple country personality disorder", "directionally-disabled" and "repair-impaired" and more than a little bit of a klutz. With all of the calamities in his life, it often seems that Freed's life is governed soley by Murphy and by an even more disaster-prone version of his law. At times the collection is gut-busting hilarious, and Freed never veers from making fun of himself (which he finds very easy to do). Often, Freed is able to transmute the most mundane moments of everyday life into something altogether more exalted, other times they are rendered even more banal. Sometimes his humour veers from funny or witty and crashes head first into the nonsensical¨usually when he seems to be trying real hard to be funny. Freed's wit shines most brilliantly when he takes a satirical look at the relationship between our country's two solitudes¨English- and French-speaking Canada. These parts of the collection are truly memorable. However, the stories (which range from 2 to 3 pages in length) are like hors d'oeuvres which never lead to a full course meal. And like saffron, the collection is great when taken in small doses, but can quickly become sickening when ingested too quickly. As a series of columns this book should be read intermittently.
Like Laughing Gas, the reader should take one story when another infusion of humour is required. ˛