Slacker antihero Chris Elliott put himself on the pop-culture map with recurring appearances on Late Night With David Letterman, starring roles in Get a Life and Cabin Boy, and his buddy/villain turn in There's Something About Mary. But he's been a writer from the get-go--for Late Night and SNL in addition to his own vehicles--which gives his stab at celebrity authorship a little more credibility than most. On its surface The Shroud of the Thwacker (Miramax Books) is the unholy spawn of Gideon Defoe (The Pirates!) and Bruce Campbell (If Chins Could Kill), hilarious but lacking the focus of either. But in his ambling parody of historical fiction, Elliott finds the funny that such stay-on-target writers can miss. Weaving swipes at Caleb Carr, Patricia Cornwall, and Dan Brown into his far-fetched tale of "Mayor" Teddy Roosevelt's hunt for Gilded Age serial killer Jack the Jolly Thwacker, he sends up both the sluggish prose and speculative nostalgia that mark best sellers like The Alienist, delivering sucker punches whenever he's lulled the reader into a sepia-toned trance. "He had been kept on the gang because his lack of vision had heightened his other senses," he writes of a blind street urchin, "specifically the senses of irony, outrage, and cruelty to animals." In the meantime the crazed plot--involving a complex yet stupid time-travel mechanism, Harry Houdini, Yoko Ono, Boss Tweed, and human sacrifice at Vista Crag in Central Park--piles cheerful anachronism up alongside enthusiastic inaccuracy. There are lulls aplenty, but--perversely--the deepest of them conceal Elliott's sharpest bits. Mon 10/17, 12:30 PM, Borders, 150 N. State, 312-606-0750.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Needleman.