Peter DeVries D. Keith Mano - Essay

D. Keith Mano

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

DeVries' writing is forty years old—Benchley, Woollcott, immature Kaufman—it dates from humor columns in the Evening Mail. And, when he isn't indulging in long words, modifying his modifiers, DeVries will preposition and pronoun and article you to death…. DeVries writes as grad students in sociology write: for other grad students in sociology. Enough to syntax anyone's patience.

Let me use DeVries' prose style: it's a serviceable metaphor: it apes his comic formula. Nouns exist for their adjectives: so, too, protagonist for cameo walk-ons; plot for digressions. The orgy scene [in I Hear America Swinging], say, is less momentous than one of its dangling participants: for example, DeVries' hunky woman wrestler, who will attack an orgasm as she would a pin. This is the nature—one nature, anyhow—of comedy: reemphasis, misemphasis. A bridge in DeVries' plot will be written cursorily—like those pronoun—article—preposition sentences—to get it out of the way. Which is why authors prefer black comedy. Not because they're morose by disposition, but because white or pure comedy is, no contest, the most exacting art form. A dull scene in black comedy might pass for one with some sort of opaque significance. In white comedy you can be too damned good for your own good. A real knee-slapper on page ten will orphan page nine and page eleven. Critics love the word "uneven"; its their favorite put-down. A white comic has...

(The entire section is 443 words.)