The bulk of the material in Veronica Geng's "Love Trouble" has been published twice -- first in the New Yorker, where she worked as a writer and editor from 1975 to 1993, and later in the collections "Partners" and "Love Trouble Is My Business." The third rendering of Geng's work (second for the volume's final 15 essays) finds it none the worse for wear; her particular brand of subtly caustic satire warrants repeat performance. But "Love Trouble" is also more than the sum of its humor pieces. Published almost two years after the death of its author (at 56, of a brain tumor), the book is a chronicle of sorts of Geng's life, a self-portrait of one of the best-regarded humorists of the past few decades.
"Veronica wrote pieces of the highest literary ambition and complexity that were also so funny they could make you laugh out loud. The ability to do that is as remarkable as being able to hit a major-league curve ball, although statistically more rare," Ian Frazier writes in his introduction to his friend and colleague's work. Reading his preamble, infused as it is with unabashed love and admiration, makes you want to give Geng's take on politics, the media and pulp fiction more than the passing glance magazine columns usually get. And indeed, many of the pieces deserve more: There is Geng on singles poetry groups: "In the room the women come and go/Talking of someone who might be tall and share their enthusiasm for theater"; Geng on stylish New York couples: "Artist Marie Bane (25) and collector Morton Braine (30) dress in simple, bold fabric wrappings -- colorful bolts and mill ends layered directly onto the skin with rubber cement"; Geng as Raymond Chandler: "I glanced over at the dame sleeping next to me, and all of a sudden I wanted some other dame, the way you see Mr. Reagan on TV and all of a sudden get a yen to read Proust."
Whether the essays, divided chronologically into three sections -- "Partners" (1984), "Love Trouble Is My Business" (1988) and "New Stories" (1987-1996) -- form any sort of cohesive work (they don't) is beside the point: There's a disarming haphazardness to the whole thing. It's only enhanced by Geng's postscripts to each of the second section's essays, in which she divulges both the origin of the piece -- usually a newspaper clipping -- and the internal life that lent it its peculiar slant. Good writing is mostly instinctual, and Geng's satire is no exception; what she does is only marginally explicable. Still, the look inside her mind is compelling, as much for aspiring satirists as for readers who find themselves increasingly curious about the mind in which all of this clever wackiness incubated.
That the collection's final essay is also the last Geng would ever write adds a solemnity to a book that was never meant to be solely about laughing out loud anyway. One can't help but think that "Love Trouble" is exactly the memorial the author would have wanted.