JAMES THURBER: His Life and Times by Harrison Kinney

JAMES THURBER: His Life and Times

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A dauntingly thorough, vast chronicle of the life and hard times of one of America's preeminent literary humorists. Thurber (1894-1961) was a rare double-threat talent. Not only did he write some of the funniest and most pellucid prose this side of Mark Twain, he was also a formidable cartoonist/caricaturist, his fluid, essential style attracting admirers as diverse as Matisse and Paul Nash. One of the New Yorker's first staffers, he dominated the magazine for years, writing and illustrating large swaths of it to growing acclaim until his sight began to fail. Eventually he had to give up drawing entirely and dictate his stories and voluminous correspondence. As with many satirists, his early, gentle humor (parodies, wordplay, lampoons of the ""war"" between men and women) turned darker and more bilious as he got older. He became a mean, obstreperous drunk, given to increasingly misogynistic outbursts--a gross inversion of the meek, harried Walter Mitty characters he was so famous for. But unlike many humorists, he has stood the test of time remarkably well, his work witty and elegantly concise. The same cannot be said for Kinney's biography. More than 30 years in the making, it is a labor of too much love. Kinney, a former reporter for the New Yorker, sucks every fact, event, and analysis dry. Even in these unhappy times when bloated biographies rule the earth, 1,200 pages on Thurber is simply grotesque. Kinney has done some formidable original resource work, interviewing most of Thurber's acquaintances, and his judgments on Thurber and his work are exquisitely perceptive. But at half the length, this biography would have been twice as penetrating and so much better suited to its subject. Definitive, but much too much of a good thing.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1995
Page count: 1200pp
Publisher: Henry Holt