THURBER: A Biography by Burton Bernstein
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THURBER: A Biography

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One only realizes now, with Bernstein's far more incisive and extensive biography, how Professor Holmes' punctilious Clocks of Columbus (1972) managed to subdue if not submerge James Thurber. That unmistakable, unclassifiable artist whose edgy, sad and irretrievably desperate life has not been mitigated here. Bernstein is a New Yorker staffer and has had the cooperation of Helen Thurber and access to all the letters, files, etc., generously used. Thurber was the logically illogical extension of his forebears whose eccentricity was a congenital trait and he is seen here progressing from the bookish, daydreamy, nervous child (who lost that eye early on) to the tentative late-starter as both man and writer with very little experience as either when he determined to become ""a literatus."" Via the Post and the New Yorker. His first marriage to the demanding Althea, the prototype of all ballbreaking Thurber women (""it was like sleeping with the Statue of Liberty"") would only promote his innate sense of menace and misery as later epitomized in all those droopy dogs and woebegotten little men. It was with one incomparable line that Thurber converted the doodle into the incongruous, threatened condition of all men. Security and serenity were to elude him most of his life -- certainly during the disastrous years with Althea and in spite of the external successes -- all those funny and fanciful books. For a time Helen, the ever constant Helen who became his seeing-eye wife once his vision abandoned him altogether, steadied him until he became more and more rancorous and abusive and uncontrollable with the torment of his last years -- operations, breakdowns, losses and the crimped capacity to write. ""God bless. . . . God damn."" It is an unfailingly involving story which still manages to restitute the affectionate, imaginative genius that was Thurber's -- for Many Moons there will be all those happy, implausible lumpen beasts and perhaps a unicorn.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1975
Publisher: Dodd, Mead