Jean Kerr Gary Jay Williams - Essay

Gary Jay Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is Jean Kerr's special mode to create domestic episodes out of the mock-heroic survival of the quiet daily desperations and for this there is an enormous appreciation, even thirst, in her audiences. Her characters are honest and unpretentious about their own confusions, and have no illusions about their cosmic size, often affecting laconic self-mockery to adjust their eyes after some blur of shifting values or double standards. Some homey sensibility, we are given to believe, remains in focus as long as we don't take ourselves too seriously. The wayward husband returns twenty minutes into his tryst, having glimpsed his folly in the moment he stopped en route to buy antacid tablets. Damned precarious—St. Rolaids, pray for us—but salable situation comedy, and in Kerr no adjustment of self-importance is aimless. For it may allow what Kerr prizes most, what she sometimes brings to us out of the slip-covered clutter like a careful, personal treasure—a latent but resilient capacity for care of the simplest order. Kerr's wit craft at its best is the means of daily prevailing between discoveries of small pockets of such care….

She does seem unable to resist reaching for the fool's gold of sentimentality: "Mommy, where does the white go when the snow melts?" is not lost innocence, it's discrimination abandoned, if not adulthood. But only momentarily. When adulthood most needs it, Kerr can neatly wilt the self-important bloom. Mother: "Do you go to church anymore?" Graduate son: "I don't get anything out of it." Mother: "What'd you expect—a good tan?" A nice elbow to the panting 1970s….

Finishing Touches already has the look of summer stock and, as a play, there is probably no special reason why this should be one…. [But] there is design to Kerr's wit craft at its best. And there is that quality of care, which is why her audiences care about Kerr, very much I think. (p. 316)

Gary Jay Williams, "Broadway Blue Chips," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1973; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. 25, No. 11, March 16, 1973, pp. 316-17.∗