SELECTED LETTERS OF JAMES THURBER by James Thurber
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SELECTED LETTERS OF JAMES THURBER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Now, this is the way to put together a great writer's letters! At least when the great writer is the singular Mr. Thurber. Few footnotes. To Hades with chronology (the letters are grouped by relationships). And the introduction is the one so thoughtfully provided long ago by the man himself: ""Thurber's letters from Europe during his long stay there in 1937 and 1938 (the European Phase) are perhaps the least interesting that he, or anybody else, ever wrote."" That happens, of course, to be an immense lie. Writing to an angst-ridden E. B. White from London in '37: ""As far as I can make out, what you have is sheep blast. . . ."" All of Thurber's letters here to the Whites are marvelous, in fact: the book begins and ends, touchingly, with Thurber/White correspondence. But equally splendid are the letters to Thurber's hometown friends Herman and Dorothy Miller: a comic-nightmare account of driving, near-blind, at night (""stopping always for every car that approached, stopping other times just to rest and bow my head on my arms and ask God to witness that this should not be""); a passing query (""Why does Henry James have to be dead?""); and the sort of off-hand, perfectly tuned, butterfly-pinning remarks that can only come from a born writer (he feels ""like an empty raspberry basket--frail, stained, and likely to be torn to pieces by a little child. . .""). And Thurber's spoofing, absurdist zingers were not reserved for his near and dear. Declining an invitation (to lecture at Mt. Holyoke) from Ada Laura Fonda Snell: ""Your name is like a waving flag and should never be furled in abbreviation."" To a schoolchild writing for a photograph: ""Photographs are for movie actors to send to girls. Tell your teacher I said so, and please send me her name. . . ."" Declining a Harvard invite: ""I am now in Europe and in the Fall expect to be in Jeopardy."" Lots of New Yorker-world chat too, of course: the torturous work on The Years With Ross; savvy jibes at the magazine's descent into ""a curious oversimplified pretentiousness""; show-biz advice to Wolcott Gibbs; grand jots of literary parody. And, on his increasing blindness, such breath-stopping lines as: ""I'm not worried.It means that girls will have to wear dresses twice as yellow as they were two years ago, if I am to chase and catch them, but there will always be some light to see by."" Unexpectedly moving, expectedly hilarious--the very best sides of a difficult personality, caught forever in a wondrous, perfectly arranged demonstration of the letter-writing art.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown