Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A bonanza ...

... first there's this, courtesy of Dave Lull: 1000 Words: Patrick Dennis.

I think I agree with this completely, but I single this out:
John Updike, John Cheever, and Richard Yates may be famous for nailing mid-century America, and especially the upper-middle-class Northeast. But -- though his style is dizzy and satirical where they were solemn and literary -- Patrick Dennis was as acute as any of them. That's merely my judgment, of course, but what the heck: If a young friend expressed interest in this era, I'd tell him to read Patrick Dennis (and John O'Hara) before Updike, Cheever, and Yates. He'd get as vivid a picture as he would from the LitBoys, and he'd probably have a much better reading time of it.
Remember: Auntie Mame was published in 1955, right smack in the middle of those oh-so-dour- and conformist '50s - and was a smash!

Then, among the bonus links that follow, is one to the incomparable Joseph Pujol (I'm not going to link to it from here, though). Do read about this extradordinary figure. I learned about him from his grandson Henry, who is a friend of ours.

Finally, right in the middle of this piece is a link to a piece by Chip McGrath about John O'Hara. It's a good read, though I wonder about this: "The O'Haras lived on Mahantongo Street, the town's fanciest address, in a mansion that formerly belonged to the Yuengling brewing family ..." Here is the house. Mansion doesn't seem the right word. The true mansions are on the other side of the street. That aside, McGrath's judgment of O'Hara's work is altogether sound.

But enough. Go read about Patrick Dennis.


  1. As a big fan of the movie, I eagerly read the book on which it is based when I found out it existed. I was very disappointed, really. Guess the lack of Rosalind Russell was just too much for me.

  2. My lack of fandome for Updike and Cheever has always made me self-suspicious. As in, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I see the brilliance everyone else seems to?"

    Yates is another story altogether. He seems, for his time especially, to have employed the perfect balance of the new economy of language made popular by Hemingway and the old poetic prose of the best writers who proceeded Papa. Lush, poignant, precise; like F.S. Fitzgerald 2.0.

    I will now check out Patrick Dennis, if reluctantly. The description of his "dizzy and satirical" style puts me off (the latter part, anyway). I've just sort of had it with sardonic, cynical work. It certainly had a a much-needed purpose in the 1950s, but this style, this method, has lived long past its usefulness. Moreover, it seems to be hanging on the culture like an old king who won't die and let his people move on.

    David Foster Wallace nailed this idea perfectly:

    “How have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today’s avant-garde tried to write about? One clue’s to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It’s not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As [Lewis] Hyde puts it, ‘Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy the cage.’ This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony is singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly funny to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing by trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow...oppressed.”