Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402
S. J. Perelman uses Sidney Namlerep to comment on his style and subjects and to make fun of himself and any possible detractors in this “Critical Introduction” to The Best of S. J. Perelman (1947), a collection of forty-nine stories from four previous volumes. Namlerep (Perelman spelled backward) writes from...
(The entire section contains 402 words.)
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S. J. Perelman uses Sidney Namlerep to comment on his style and subjects and to make fun of himself and any possible detractors in this “Critical Introduction” to The Best of S. J. Perelman (1947), a collection of forty-nine stories from four previous volumes. Namlerep (Perelman spelled backward) writes from 1626 Broadway (Perelman’s office address) this “consideration” of a humorist who “certainly deserves the same consideration one accords old ladies on streetcars, babies traveling unescorted on planes, and the feebleminded generally.”
Many of Perelman’s stories begin as essays only to develop elaborate plots, but in “A Critical Introduction to The Best of S. J. Perelman by Sidney Namlerep,” his narrator is concerned solely with attacking, while ostensibly explaining, the writer’s supposed talent, his physique, and his sanity. All three defects are conjoined by the critic’s claim that Perelman’s “entire output over the past two decades has been achieved without benefit of brain.”
Namlerep questions the writer’s morality and his insistence on using arcane language. The two complaints merge when Namlerep analyzes a lengthy passage from a story entitled “Scenario,” which ridicules the clichés of melodrama: “It is all very well to condone Perelman on the ground that he wrote the foregoing after extended servitude in Hollywood, but what if such passages were to fall into the hands of children? Particularly children who did not know the meaning of words like ’patchouli’?”
Namlerep also accuses his subject of being a phony. References to a Tattersall vest and the Cesarewitch Sweepstakes in “Kitchen Bouquet” imply that the writer is “an habitue of the tracks.” However, the ever-diligent critic uncovers the truth. Twenty-four years previously Perelman borrowed a Tattersall vest to wear to a tea dance at his university, and ten years later he overheard two elderly jockeys discussing the Cesarewitch. “It was therefore inevitable,” Namlerep concludes, “that, since Perelman suffers from what psychologists euphemistically term total recall, he should have dredged up these references when the opportunity arose.”
The critic predicts a “disastrous future” for his subject because “the two most dominant themes” in his work are those involving women and money: “Obvious infantilism of this sort can be forgiven a gifted writer; in one so patently devoid of talent as Perelman, his continual absorption with the fleshpots indicates the need for speedy therapy.” Namlerep suggests he “betake himself to that good five-cent psychiatrist he is forever prating about.”