At their best, John Collier’s works are lightly satiric, elegantly styled pieces, ironic, sardonic and bizarre, though occasionally unexpectedly grim. Their dialogue is deft, their style economical and clever, their plots subtle, swift, and memorable, their outcomes surprising. They expose the shallow vanities of contemporary manners, mores, and sentimentality. They involve sharply observed studies of the inanities, conflicts, and power plays involved in male-female relationships, and the greed, hypocrisy, and pretensions of professionals, tradesmen, Hollywood types, and even gentlemen. His doctors promote absurd cures (one even disembowels a patient for personal gain); his dentists rationalize pulling every tooth in one’s head for the right fee; his psychiatrists explain away the Devil; his industrialists are hardened sadists and his gentlemen profligate dandies; and his artists pander to prevailing tastes or find themselves victims of the system. The scientist in “Man Overboard” pursues a sea monster and then flying saucers, while the one in “Youth from Vienna” seeks the fountain of youth. Sometimes Collier’s language debunks, as in the description of one character’s ideals as “as lofty as the bridge of his nose” or of a girl “who lives chastely with her Lee-Enfield, her Ballard, her light Winchester.” Often Collier will interject a formal and brilliantly contrived sentence with a Victorian tone, sometimes to call attention to the dichotomy...
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