Sally Benson Edith H. Walton - Essay

Edith H. Walton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It has been clear for some time now that Sally Benson is one of the best of The New Yorker writers…. Like John O'Hara, however, who was formed in the same school, Mrs. Benson's work [collected in "People are Fascinating"] has more substance to it and a more cutting edge than the average wraith-like New Yorker piece. Her satire has point, force, venom; she is seldom guilty of rarefied whimsy; only her poorest sketches are tepid and over-elusive….

To compare this one and that one with Dorothy Parker is a dodge which few reviewers are able to resist. In Mrs. Benson's case the comparison is unavoidable. Though her angle is different, and fractionally more humane, she is an impishly discerning about the frailties of her fellows. She has an equally merciless ear for the fatuous speech, an eye as deadly for the foolish, betraying gesture. Less brilliant, possible, she has an advantage over Mrs. Parker in that she is not so apt to be seduced by a wisecrack, nor so inclined to subscribe to the tradition of hard-boiled gallantry….

[For] the most part it is rootless urban folk whose vanities and frustrations she exposes….

By their very nature Sally Benson's stories are slight; they are built around a conversation or a single illuminating incident, and their suave brevity is half the secret of their charm. About half a dozen of them, however—and those the best in the book—manage to achieve real pithiness and to compress significance into a few telling pages….

If she is to make a permanent name for herself, it is this vein which Sally Benson must continue and develop. Mean-while she has written any number of lighter more trivial pieces which glitter with gayety and wit.

Edith H. Walton, "'People Are Fascinating'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1936 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 5, 1936, p. 7.