At least a year ago I ran into my friend, Janet, the Grand Dame of Bookselling. She always has more than a few suggestions for me and told me how I must read I Shudder by Paul Rudnick. She thought it was my kind of humor. Dutifully, I added it to my list of books to be purchased. It was several months before I found a beautiful hardcover at my favorite used book grotto and, as usual, she was right.
Rudnick is best-known as a playwright (I Hate Hamlet, Jeffrey) and has had some Hollywood successes (Addams Family Values, In & Out), as well. Sub-titled And Other Reactions to Life, Death and New Jersey, I Shudder is a series of rollicking personal essays interrupted by the fictional diary entries of Elyot Vionnet, a persnickety aesthete and substitute teacher.
The essays are sprightly personal pieces describing friends, family and experiences. His reminiscense of the Chelsea Hotel and it's merry mess of oddfellows only adds to my fascination with 1970's New York, an age when people could actually afford to live in Manhattan. The opening piece, The Sisters, a fond though stinging look at his mother and aunts not only had me laughing and nodding but imagining my mother and sisters behaving the same way had they lived in the same city. Enter Trembling, his piece about Hollywood exec Scott Rudin brings warmth and humanity to a ruthless Type-A type.
There are five pieces billed as excerpts "from the Most Deeply Intimate and Personal Diary of One Elyot Vionnet" and they were far and away my favorites. I found both the character and how Rudnick writes these pieces very reminiscent of the hilarious minutiae of S. J. Perelman entwined with the haughtiness of a Thurber man.
To give you a taste of what I found so funny, here Vionnet describes his underwear: "...my intimate apparel is manufactured from a Swiss cotton of such whisper-soft resilience that it is normally used only to wrap the painfully sensitive faces of the world's wealthiest women as they recuperate from acid peels in private clinics. Unlike these women's jowls and browlines, however, my undergarments require mending only once per decade, when I mail them to a Long Island convent, where the nuns compete to gently darn and patch my private attire because, as Sister Herbert Elizabeth once wrote to me, in her own blood, "Mr. Vionnet, your boxer sorts and undershirts do not merely speak to me. They sing.'"
Needless to say, when I read this, I awakened Mrs. Next with my howls of laughter.