Posts Tagged ‘Satire’

please don't eat the daisies jean kerr 001Please Don’t Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr ~ 1957. This edition: Doubleday, 1957. Illustrations by Carl Rose. Hardcover. 192 pages.

My rating: 8/10.

I’ve had this book kicking around for years, as you can see from the sad state of its dust jacket pictured over there on the left (now covered with crinkly, shiny Brodart Just-a-Fold, one of my happier recent personal library improvement initiatives), and I re-read it with pleasure every so often. The only thing keeping it from a 10/10 rating is that it is too darned short; we never really get to settle down into it; it’s over and done with much too soon.

Jean Kerr lightly channels Shirley Jackson (the domestically-focussed SJ of Life Among the Savages versus the darker fictions, I hasten to add) and shines a cheerful and mildly sarcastic light on her own marriage and the goings-on of her four young sons.

Jean was always interested in the theatrical arts, and upon graduation from college, married one of her drama professors, Walter Kerr, who later became a prominent stage and film critic. The Kerrs dabbled in playwriting, producing a series of not terribly successful efforts, but having much more success with writing material for revues.

Jean Kerr did eventually have a hit, with the 1961 Broadway comedy Mary, Mary. She also wrote humorous essays which were published in various periodicals, such as the Ladies’ Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is a compilation of these essays, and was followed some years later by other collections: 1960’s The Snake Has All the Lines, 1970’s Penny Candy, and 1978’s How I Got to Be Perfect.

Somewhere in the middle of Daisies, the Kerrs buy a house. Not just any house, but an eccentrically designed and decorated Larchdale, New York mansion formerly owned by a compatriot of Henry Ford, one retired inventor, world traveller and stuff collector, Charles B. King. King incorporated such features into his “fairy tale home” such as carved ceiling beams and a dining room floor made of planks from a retired paddlewheel steam ship, the door of ST. Gabriel’s Church, a clock tower, and a thirty-two bell courtyard carillon (connected to a clock in said clock tower) which played the duet from Carmen every day at noon.

The Kerrs found the house bizarrely irresistible, and persisted in their efforts to buy it from the trustees of the King estate, who could not agree on a reasonable asking price, until a fire destroyed one of the wings, and the price dropped to a level the Kerrs could manage.

For anyone interested in taking a peek at the house of the book, here is a link to an article and a slide show of a tour of the building prepared when Jean Kerr’s sons put the building up for sale in 2003, after it had been in the family for 58 years:

http://larchmontgazette.com/2003/features/20030318kerrhouse.html

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies caught the spotlight in 1960 as it was used as the basis of a romantic-comedy movie by the same name starring David Niven and Doris Day, and then a 1965-67 television sit-com based very loosely on the Kerr ménage and their unique home.

While I enjoy Jean Kerr’s on-page persona as a harassed mother of many (she eventually had six children, including one set of twins) I think my favourite essays in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies are the parodies of literary works. Stephen Vincent Benét’s sombre poem John Brown’s Body is presented as a readers’ theatre piece entitled Don Brown’s Body (starring Mike Hammer and set amongst the gangsters), while Francoise Sagan’s  A Certain Smile inspires Jean Kerr’s brutally funny mockery, Toujours tristesse. These two essays make the book for me; the Kerrs’ revues, if they were anything like these, must have been an absolute joy to attend.

A very clever lady, behind that “I’m just a harried mom who happens to write on the side” literary disguise.

 

 

 

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the murder of my aunt (v2) richard hullThe Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull ~ 1934. This edition: Pocket Books, 1946. Paperback. 184 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Absolute piffle, but great fun. If I might be so bold, I propose this as a “must read” for lovers of vintage crime fiction and Wodehousian-style humour alike. A deliciously nasty little tale which defies fitting neatly into its possible genres in much the same way as its narrator dodges attempts to save him from himself.

Edward Powell has been raised by his aunt since the unfortunate (and apparently scandalous) double demise of his parents when he was but a wee tot. Childless Aunt Mildred is happily established at the family estate in rural Wales, but Richard has a hankering for a more sophisticated lifestyle, and is increasingly impatient with his aunt’s attitude that he should find an occupation and become self-supporting, rather than relying on her support.

Now, as spinster Aunt Mildred has no other heirs, Edward can one day expect to inherit her estate, which he fully intends to dispose of as quickly as possible, to facilitate departure for some place more appealing to his sensibilities. Perhaps the Riviera…

But pesky Aunt Mildred looks to be good for quite a few more years. What if her nephew were to hasten her inevitable demise, combining it with a spot of revenge for all of her patronizing comments regarding his dilettante leanings?

As Edward attempts to bring about the “accidental” demise of his sole relative, he confides all in great detail to his private journal, which he keeps locked up between episodes of writing in a small safe in his bedroom. A safe which his aunt has given him. (Hint: Richard isn’t as bright as he thinks himself.)

And never doubt that Aunt Mildred may have a few tricks up her own sleeve…

A nice fast read, and a fine vintage diversion for a quiet evening or a blustery day.

Here’s a sample. (Click the image to enlarge in a new window.)

the murder of my aunt excerpt richard hull 001

 

 

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