Peter De Vries Essay - De Vries, Peter (Vol. 2)

De Vries, Peter (Vol. 2)

De Vries, Peter 1910–

American comic novelist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

[Peter De Vries] is our most gifted take-off man whose literary parodies are the humiliation of anyone who merely criticizes. But there have been occasions when his novels have seemed smothered or aborted by this faculty—as in "The Tents of Wickedness," which we read more for its series of mimetic exercises, comic imitations of Marquand, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and others, than for anything else.

At other times, though, De Vries's literary reminders have been only one part of a comedy of verbal manners; like no other humorist I know, he can suggest the tragi-farcical give-away in all variety of human expression—and, particularly, in anyone's attempt to be funny. Two years ago, he issued what seemed an ultimate statement about his own art in "The Cat's Pajamas." I remember shuddering at the conclusion of that Rake's Progress of the compulsive De Vries joker, the man unmanned by that once-supposed most human quality, his sense of the ridiculous. Will he have the fortitude to continue to "make fun" after this, I wondered?… Modern life, at least, such parody as De Vries makes us realize, consists so largely of processed, stylized feelings and events that to represent it is inevitably to make another form of parody….

Stepping back from the entertainment [in "Mrs. Wallop"], one may wonder if some advantage might have been gained for the novel by a viewpoint less relativist. There are too many distractions, too many targets that attract the author's wit; the parody of both Mrs. Wallop and her detractors leaves us no vantage point of judgment. And, indeed, De Vries's weakness as a writer of books that are wholes may derive from his itch to laugh at anything he happens to think of along the way.

Millicent Bell, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 11, 1970, pp. 4, 49.

Between the time the hammer hits the thumb and the brain signals the bad news, there is an instant when the victim is at peace with the absurdity of the situation. Mrs. Wallop prolongs that moment of truce longer and more cleverly than most of Peter De Vries' previous eleven novels.

As a grand entertainment, the book is an animated suspension of De Vries' 30 years' war to unite tragedy and farce, faith and despair. It has none of the wrenchings of personal loss and religious crisis found in The Blood of the Lamb. There are no ghastly satirical accidents or bizarre deaths, such as befall the poet in Reuben, Reuben who hangs himself in an orthopedic harness. In Mrs. Wallop, the grotesque is thoroughly housebroken by De Vries' mastery of the instruments of parody. Literary styles and genres are lampooned, and holy cows milked. But Mrs. Wallop is really a response to the literary mother knockers, from Euripides (Medea) to Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint).

R. Z. Sheppard, "Mother's Lib," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1970 by Time Inc.), October 19, 1970, p. 90.

Peter De Vries,… like Adlai Stevenson and Mark Twain, has suffered from the American assumption that anyone with a sense of humor is not to be taken seriously. De Vries is the most domestic of writers. Except for his masterpiece, The Blood of the Lamb, his literary charades more or less cheerfully present a more or less repetitive series of matrimonial alarums and excursions. The De Vries wife—customarily strong, indulgent, humorless but invaluable—acts as a combined anchor and honeypot for the engaging, mercurial, hopelessly light-weight De Vriesian husband, who mostly can't pun his way out of a wet paper bag but is willing to die trying….

Plot is not Peter De Vries' thing. Neither is message. But he handles marriage with a fine affection, suggesting, among other things, that it is women who customarily treat men with chivalric restraint, rather than the other way around. He also communicates a feeling that the relationship between the sexes is too complicated, cursed, blessed, exasperating and, above all, personal, to be left to the likes of Norman Mailer, Dr. Reuben or Germaine Greer.

Timothy Foote, "Two Is Company," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1971 by Time Inc.), October 25, 1971, p. 91.

As some dozen previous books constructed on the same formula as Into Your Tent I'll Creep amply attest, Peter DeVries is a funny man who has a light and inventive way of twisting words. He is a stand-up comic who uses a typewriter instead of a microphone to regale his audience with rapid-fire gags. But whereas the nightclub comic usually kicks his victims in the teeth for laughs, DeVries shows a comely compassion. When the jokes come fast enough and are outrageous enough the story line connecting them matters little. That is the DeVries formula. It has worked in the past, and he has a loyal following.

But this latest incarnation of his talent is shabby and transparently thin—thin not like a see-through blouse, as one suspects he would have it, but like a watered-down coat of glossy paint. It just does not cover.

Peter Wood, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, January 8, 1972; used with permission), January 8, 1972, p. 35.

[Into Your Tent I'll Creep is Peter De Vries'] 13th novel—and one of his best. In it he preserves that tradition (long ago established in the Morality Plays and sustained in comedy ever since) of giving names to characters which suggest their character (i.e. aptronymically)….

It is throughout a light-hearted novel, but with sufficient seriousness of tone and intent to make it far from superficial or slick. The characters are very well depicted and are funny in themselves as well as in what they do and say. The author's comic zest and invention are for the most part unflagging—especially in his dialogue and descriptions of the contemporary American scene, and also when he makes a funny episode out of something that might be serious….

I think this new novel will give an enormous amount of pleasure to many people.

J. A. Cuddon, in Books and Bookmen, September, 1972, p. 88.

It may be, as the dust jacket [of Without a Stitch in Time] states, that Peter De Vries's reputation now rests mainly on his comic novels. We can, nonetheless, be grateful to his publishers for granting us this comprehensive view of De Vries in his shorts.

Perhaps it is because his unrestrained use of outrageous puns and similar verbal low comedy is so dazzling that we tend to slight his other talents as a humorist. But the range of his performance is hard to equal.

His phrasing, for instance, can be as deft as Waugh, Benchley or any of the other great comic manipulators of English, where the fun lies principally in the precise choice of words and their precise order in a sentence. He is a master of booby-trapping paragraphs….

His parodies never miss a note of the originals, and they are funny as well as accurate, which is not always the case with well-wrought parodies….

Yet with all this virtuoso clowning, De Vries produces something that is more than brilliant entertainment. Like the Elizabethan fool and like all great comic writers, he is continually presenting us with the sharpest, wholly unillusioned insights into the intricacies of human relationships. Often these are no laughing matter….

De Vries comedy is the spectacle of a literate mind tottering good-naturedly on the brink of disintegration. Even when he has tied himself down to a formal narrative line, his thought keeps shooting off at wildly divergent tangents, like a basketful of exploding skyrockets.

Paul Showers, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 24, 1972, pp. 3, 17.