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I suppose it has been a while since I read a really terrible book. It is probably good for the karma.

Seriously, though, Thurber wrote The 13 Clocks, which is one of the greatest fantasy novels for children ever written, and could someone kindly tell me whether I should read anything else the man wrote? Because 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' is all an incredibly famous story which I hate, and the essays everyone says are funny aren't, and this, look.

It's not just that this has been visited by the Sexism Fairy. It has been visited by, like, the Sexism Reissues Of All Of Andrew Lang, or the Sexism Cast Of Iolanthe, and no matter how far I overextend this metaphor (too far already) it is not going to tell you how aggravating I find Thurber on the topic of, specifically, wives. Because as far as I can tell he is psychically channeling Ernest Hemingway at his worst and that is all there is to it. A wife is an accoutrement who bothers a man and why do men put up with them anyway, is the gist here.

Anyway these are little fables or reworked fairytales from The New Yorker, and while I do actually appreciate the one in which the little girl takes out an automatic and shoots the wolf at twenty paces because it is incredibly easy to tell a wolf apart from your grandmother, the rest of them read like Dorothy Parker on a particularly self-hating hangover day, except that Parker would actually be funny. The moral of ninety percent of them, explicitly spelled out, is 'WOMEN SUCK AMIRITE?'

The illustrations, by Thurber, are perfectly lovely, and have in many cases nothing to do with the subject matter. A lot of the poems that he illustrates in the latter half of the book are not poems I like, but the illos are very fun anyway, especially for the one about how curfew must not ring tonight, which has an amazing cartoon of Our Heroine wrapped desperately around the tongue of a giant bell and swinging out into space over the churchyard. Also, if you have ever felt a need in your life for James Thurber illustrating 'Lochinvar', here you go, and I have to say I think it would make a nice little kid's book in excerpt.

But as for the rest, well. Desperately as I love The 13 Clocks, I think it is significant that Our Heroine spends the entire book enchanted to be able to say only one word and there are no other female characters. I would require serious persuasion to pick up any more Thurber at this point, unless we are talking a collection of drawings.


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March 2017

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