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Brahms Bursting in Midair:

Recently, while in New York at a conference, I made a pilgrimage to Strand Bookstore for a morning of browsing – and, well, to be truthful, of spending. While browsing, I picked up some novels by Peter De Vries, a wonderful novelist I had not read in over two decades. If any former fans haven’t partaken recently, or if any readers have not experienced him yet (he died in 1993), I would urge you to do so. De Vries offers a unique blend of rich humor, gags, and one-liners along with social commentary, philosophy, and satire, along with, as he put it, “the logic of insanity.”

While he was much more than a writer of humor, it was, nevertheless, a key ingredient in his work. Consider, for example, the following one-liners:

…“What I hate about writing is the paperwork.”

…“How do you expect mankind to be happy in pairs when it is miserable separately?”

…“The Brahms bursting in midair.”

…“It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that He need not exist in order to save us.”

…“I don’t for the life of me understand why people keep insisting marriage is doomed, all five of mine worked out.”

Or consider this delicious peek into the male psyche: “She was about 25, and naked except for a green skirt and sweater, heavy brown tweed coat, shoes, stockings, and so forth, a scarf knotted at her throat and a brown beret. I regarded her breasts with melancholy, then my eyes began their ordained journey downward.”

It is difficult to know which one of his some two dozen novels, along with parodies, poetry, short stories, and essays, to recommend for a first read, but I will suggest the Vale of Laughter though just about all are worth reading.

I should mention that De Vries did write one entirely serious novel entitled, The Blood of the Lamb. This is De Vries’ most nearly autobiographical novel (1961) and deals with the death of a child. His own daughter died the year before, and the descriptions of the young girl’s death are heartbreakingly poignant. At the end of the novel, the father, months after his daughter’s death, runs into the girl’s teacher, who comments: “Some poems are long, some are short. She was a short one.”

What we find in De Vries, I suppose, is what we find in life: some joy, some laughter, some innocent, and some uncontaminated love, occasional cynicism, a great sense of irony, and, of course, pain and tragedy. As his narrator writes in Peckham’s Marbles: “For we are all swimmers ephemerally buoyed by what will engulf us at the last; still dreaming of islands though the mainland has been lost; swept remorselessly out to sea while we spread our arms to the beautiful shore.”


Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com

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