THE CHRISTENING PARTY by Francis Steegmuller


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When one associates Francis Steegmuller with books of informed scholarship and great charm set against a French background, it is with something of shock that one encounters him as author of a sometimes whimsical, sometimes wryly cynical bit of regional pastiche- not French this time- but unadulterated New England. The nearest analogy might be Josephine Pinckney's memorable Three O'Clock Dinner, which by bringing into focus a family party set forth a rich canvas of Charlestoniana. Now in another family party story -- as a christening party brings together a motley collection of two families linked by marriage -- another kind of American panorama is spread before the reader. The story is told as seen, often in distorted form, by a seven year old, who manages to get himself into successive listening posts while his adults offer nuggets of wisdom and nonsense which he translates to his own satisfaction. Bit by bit various half-heard stories, random bits, fall into place. Judgy, his irascible grandfather, sets off many of the fireworks, while his adored uncle the Bishop acts as mediator and peacemaker. Old hates and jealousies flare anew; old scandals come full circle; the underlying thread of Catholicism vs Protestantism weaves in and out; and a somewhat mad denouement brings the whole crazy, upside down day to a close. One reads with tongue in cheek-and appreciation of the adroit introduction of a myriad of digs at established mores. Perhaps not important-but fun to read.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1960
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy