A jackpot of Thurber correspondence—from light entertainments to pure vitriol, with the fascination of an evolutionary timeline.
Thurber “never allowed language to stand still,” writes the tireless Thurber-phile Kinney (James Thurber, 1995), and readers of these letters, written in language that jumps, are invited into Thurber’s head to witness the changes in the man that came with the years—from fusspot to peeve to curmudgeon—and the steadiness of his convictions to romanticism (“the blow that cools James is the Hope that Spouts eternal about the One Girl”), brevity (“getting the atmosphere of the style to fit . . . takes . . . longer than to make a Manhattan, about as long as to make a Martini”), and his writing, which he defended. As he wrote to an editor at the New York Times Book Review: “I rarely use the ugly word ‘grew’ and I have changed it back to ‘was’. This is not only good English, it is the way I write, and this is my piece.” Thurber’s words frequently snap like dangerous teeth: “Why shouldn’t I be sarcastic if I wish? Do you think it is a simple matter to give one’s whole heart away,” he writes to an unrequited love. And editors at the New Yorker got bitten time and again: “I must object to a recent manifestation of the hyper-precisionists on your magazine.” Then there are the many letters that serve to lift the spirits in their cheer and humor—to his daughter, fellow writers, friends, family—and those that chart his health or the life of a relationship, particularly that with the E.B. Whites or, more particular still, with Katherine White, to whom he goes from writing, “don’t worry about having to edit my stuff. . . . I’m not worrying” to “the results . . . were little short of complete disaster.”
Like sampler chocolates: it’s possible to consume in one sitting, which says much about its quality, considering its length. (Illustrations)