Four elements are common in the fiction of Peter De Vries: a fascination with metaphysics, especially questions relating to religious issues and to meaning in life; a sympathetic presentation of ordinary domestic arrangements; poking fun at ordinary Midwest and Northeast suburban society; and an amazing skill with the English language.
De Vries was born into a family of Dutch Calvinists and reared in their strict faith. He was graduated from Calvin College in 1931. As a novelist, he often weaves questions of faith into the musings of his characters and the comic transformations they undergo. While exploring religious and existential questions in this way, he satirizes aspects of contemporary life. De Vries celebrates domestic life without sentimentalizing it. He eventually settled with his wife, the writer Katinka Loeser, in suburban Connecticut and fathered five children. A daughter died of leukemia in 1960, a tragedy commemorated in The Blood of the Lamb. In comic novels, his characters usually take a circuitous route to domestic bliss, sometimes exploring unconventional paths along the way. Ultimately, however, they reconcile themselves to conventional happiness.
De Vries devoted his life to language. He held several editorial positions: on small newspapers, at Poetry magazine (1938-1944), and as a staff contributor to The New Yorker (1944-1987). His wit has been placed in the company of that of such noted humorists as S. J. Perelman, Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, and others.