Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse

I find I consistently come back to Wodehouse as a palate cleaner after reading something really good. There are very few writers who can compare to Kelly Link -- whose book of short stories Get in Trouble I was reading just before Bachelors Anonymous -- but Wodehouse can stand any comparison.

Yes, his work is artificial. Yes, it's entirely constrained. Yes, it's set in a world almost entirely unlike our own in a million tiny ways. Yes a thousand yesses. But it's also magnificent in its artificiality, precise and sublime in its construction, and built with exquisite care out of words chosen to be exact and tight-fitting -- like the most brilliantly useless hypercar ever, a gleaming and glorious monument to silly excess.

And, on the other hand, I have scattered across my shelves books that are perfectly nice -- some of them may be vastly better than that, for all I know -- but were less stylistically inventive or obviously well-written than something transcendent that I read before them. When that happens, the later book feels like a trudge and a slog, and I've learned to just give up quickly at that point. So there have been a few dozen things that I read ten or fifty pages of but felt only meh. I've found, from long trial-and-error, that only one writer will consistently transcend the deadly Every-novel-is-meh Syndrome: Wodehouse. (The other path involves diving into nonfiction for a while, and is less quick. Because a book of nonfiction may also become meh.)

So Wodehouse is now my go-to after a book that would otherwise beg comparisons to anything more realistic or contemporary. Luckily, Wodehouse wrote nearly a hundred books in his life, and nearly all of them are in print in those lovely little Overlook Press hardcovers. (And I have a stuffed-full shelf of them to choose from.) This particular little morsel is from the very end of his long writing life, published in 1973, just a couple of years (literally) before Wodehouse's knighthood and subsequent death. (I am not here claiming a connection. I haven't made a serious study of the timeframe.)

As typical with Wodehouse, it's about people falling in love, or trying not to. Young men and women -- and some older ones as well -- mostly connected with the arts (a movie mogul, a playwright, a journalist, an actress...but also a lawyer or two and a nurse, eventually) who just need to find each other, struggle through the usual plot complications and settle down. This time out, though, there is an organization -- the title group, out of Hollywood -- that helps its members keep themselves unmarried rather than going around for what may be the sixth time.

Can the force of true love win out over silly misunderstandings and a pseudo-twelve-step group? Well, of course it can: this is Wodehouse.

Bachelors Anonymous is late Wodehouse, which means it's a bit short and not quite as rococo as his best, but it's sunny and amiable and funny and glorious and entirely entertaining. And, having read it, I'm ready to jump back into anything else.

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