Friday, November 05, 2010

An old friend visits

The work of James Thurber has meant a great deal to me since I paid a quarter for a copy of The Thurber Carnival at a thrift store almost 25 years ago. Most people had to read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" or "The Catbird Seat" as part of a college collection or as an assignment in high school. Maybe that's all the Thurber most people need but his work spoke to me immediately and with immediacy. It was smart and funny and literate and snobby and drunken and sad--all qualities to which I aspired. For many years, I would bore most anyone who would listen to me go on (and on and on) about James Thurber. His work turned me on to Perelman, Runyon, Benchley and the rest of the Harold Ross/New Yorker set and changed how I read.

The other night, for the first time in several years, I picked up The Thurber Carnival and am delighted to report it is STILL smart and funny and literate and snobby and drunken and sad. Certainly it is dated and some of the pieces have little in common with our present world nor how humor has evolved since but the writing holds up as truly classic American literature.

The selections, especially those from The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, knocked me out all over again: Elliot Vereker from "Something To Say", Barney Haller's accented speech and Thurber's fear of 'grotches' from "The Black Magic of Barney Haller", Charlie Deshler 'coming out of the anesthetic' of his wife's charms from "The Curb In the Sky". Still funny, still clever, still beautifully written. I was also quite moved by the longing and loneliness in both The Evening's At Seven and One Is A Wanderer. Thurber is remembered as a writer of humor but he was a hell of a writer, period.

I could go on (and usually do) but instead suggest you, too, dig out your old copy of The Thurber Carnival and give it a read. Or should you come across a copy in a thrift store, spend the quarter.
My guess is you will be rewarded and delighted.