A THOUSAND PARDONS by Katinka Loeser


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They were ""Mr. and Mrs. Archer"" back in the '60s (The Archers at Home). Now--in most of the stories in this new gathering from The New Yorker--they are Gladstone (a.k.a. ""the One and Only"" or ""the Chief"") and Betsy. And they are really, of course, Loeser and husband Peter De Vries--whose older married life together is always at least in the background of these wifely, womanly, tragicomic musings. By far the best work here is the opening trio of pieces, which can (and should) be read as a three-movement sonata, with death as its light but insistent recurring-motif: narrator Betsy is weeding in the garden (""I have somehow trapped myself between the bent lilac, the upright lilac, and the azaleas""); friend Louise matter-of-factly phones to announce that she has lung cancer; and this elegantly brutal interplay between daily (often comic) valor and stark mortality is beautifully orchestrated throughout--as Betsy wrestles with burglar-alarms, recalls her father's death, types her ""Last W. & T,"" warily eyes her grown children, observes the weather (""My heart sinks as I begin to understand that this is going to be what is called a perfect day""), and finally gets the inevitable news about Louise. (""I raised my hand to wave to her, but I did not know where to turn, which direction she had taken."") Elsewhere, however, without ""Our Common Destiny"" to lend ballast, Loeser can sometimes seem rather too much like The New Yorker's answer to Erma Bombeck: the little jokes about wine-loving, birthday-hating Gladstone (who is ""perhaps too well-groomed for this world""); the slightly banal reflections on child-rearing. And a few of the attempts to develop large resonances from mini-portraits (vain old-pal Elsie, childhood memories of a small-town society reporter) don't quite come off. Still, at her best Loeser is a relaxed comic entertainer and a deep-feeling memoirist all at once--no mean feat--so this quiet, slyly stylish new book often achieves a tart autumnal glow that's very endearing; and that opening section--lyric, funny, subtly fierce--is certainly the finest thing Loeser has ever written.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum