Peter DeVries Stuart Sutherland - Essay

Stuart Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The opening chapter of Madder Music … is as sustained a piece of comedy as anything DeVries has ever achieved. His effects cannot properly be conveyed by quotation since the dazzling edifice he builds depends upon his unique capacity to pile one witticism precariously on top of another. Like Oscar Wilde he believes a good remark is worth repeating, but there is enough fresh material for the reader to overlook such lapses as "she was one of those women you don't give a book because they've already got one". Just occasionally he reveals too much of the stage machinery: a character called Betty Tingle remarks to the hero as he fondles her breasts "You're making Betty Tingle"—worth it for the triple entendre?

Madder Music is the story of the events that forced the hero to escape into the character of Groucho Marx. DeVries makes play with those reversals of the natural order of things that occur so often in everyday life…. As in his previous novels, DeVries delivers numerous homespun insights … into the curious workings of the human mind: they are always expressed with deft economy—"nothing will make a man a model husband faster than infidelity."

DeVries's satire is as accurate as ever: he successfully derides many contemporary American institutions, including modern art, psychiatry, the real estate business and of course current sexual mores. But his satire lacks passion—and one suspects he would...

(The entire section is 419 words.)