Review: The Joyous Season

May 6, 2011 Comments Off on Review: The Joyous Season

This has got to be one of my favorite books. It’s narrated by ten-year-old Kerry, precocious and garrulous, and he tells the story of his parents’ divorce after a Christmas gone badly wrong. It’s absolutely hilarious, and it lampoons old New York society and the nouveau riche so precisely it almost hurts. That’s the beauty of this book, though—what makes it a relief after TV shows like “The Office”—it takes horribly uncomfortable and awkward situations and actually does manage to make them hilarious. Dennis’ writing is flawless, Kerry’s voice never flags and he’s a great kid, and the story is unbelievable and perfect and funny as hell.

Kerry’s mother’s family is old, ooooold New York money. She has an older brother who’s a tightwad and a drunkard but no one will admit either. Her mother is very concerned with doing things right, and with the right people, and so on. After Christmas, Kerry’s mom meets Sam, a square, upstanding lawyer who is trying to get into all the old clubs and all the old law firms and so on, and he adores the drunkard brother.

Kerry’s dad’s only family is their outrageous grandmother Ga-ga. …There’s no way to describe her. Just please read the book. Dad ends up sort of seeing this woman named Dorian, who’s an up-and-coming editor at a fashion magazine.

The best thing is, once the characters are in place, the whole plot makes perfect sense—even though it’s bizarre and unlikely—and flows right along. Kerry and his sister Missy are truly good kids, raised well, and their bewilderment with what starts happening around them would be touching if they didn’t deal with it so well and humorously. The book was written in 1964, so Kerry uses a bunch of old slang, but it works perfectly and is very, very funny. And even though the main character is a kid, this is emphatically not a kids’ book. There’s a lot of adult stuff going on around Kerry, some of which he understands and some of which he doesn’t, but it’s a lot of fun to see what he doesn’t pick up on. (My favorite is, “she said her first husband was a ‘laden homo sapiens’ [?] and ‘impudent in the hay’ [?] unless Aunt Liz was wearing men’s pajamas.”) The word that best describes the book as a whole is zany, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful read. (I read it when I’m in a bad mood or scared or anything like that. It works like a charm.) It will take you about an hour.

EXCERPT:

[J]ust this morning Missy came up to me before we were taken off to the East Haddock Bath and Tennis Club and said, “Kerry, if you tell me something, I’ll tell you something.”

“What?” I said.

“Well, you have to tell me first or else I won’t.”

“You won’t what?”

“Tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“That’s what I mean, Kerry, you’ve got to tell me first.”

“Tell you what, for cripes sake?”

“Do you know how babies get born?”

“Well, sure. Yeah. Kind of.” Well, to level with you, I do and I don’t. Oh, I’ve had my chances. In fact I’ve been told three times. The funny part is I could never work up much interest in the whole thing. When I was only like four and Missy was on the way Mom and Daddy tried to drag me into it and explain how a new little life was inside Mom, exetera, exetera, exetera. Well I am here to tell you that I couldn’t have cared less. The kindergarten I was going to at the time was very big on this “sibling rivalry” (it’s one of Dr. Epston’s best words and it means you’re supposed to hate your brother or your sister). Well, like I said, I took to Missy right away. And I still do except when she gets me mad. As a matter of fact, when they brought Missy home I was the only one who did like her. Ooba-dooba but she was ugly! And a real, thoroughgoing bitch—always screaming or spitting up or messing herself or like that. Well, that was the first time it was explained to me.

The second time was around a year ago when Daddy came home with this book that had some damned baby sitting on a cloud on the cover and read it aloud to me. It was full of all these nine-dollar words like womb and ovary and spermatoga [?] and gesticulation period [?] and all that jazz. Dull as all get-out and it happened to be at the very time when “Car 54, Where Are You?” was on TV. What a drag!

The last—and I hope the final time—was at school this year during study hall when the Head came marching into our class all hot under the collar, pulled down the shades and turned on this projector. We were afraid it was going to be movies of his trip to the Holy Land, but it was worse. Just some slides—and most of them upside down—of eggs and a lot of wiggly things squirming around and some real obnoxious kind of unborn baby all curled up into a ball. Well, the Head went on and on and on and on and on about God’s glorious plan and the beauty of it all, like it wasn’t something any alley cat could do. I mean if he’d only had the sense to ask, any one of us could have told him that you lay a dame and nine months later you get baby—if you want one that bad. But at St. Barnaby’s they practically won’t promote you into the sixth grade unless you’re a father. I mean they act like it was as important as long division or irregular French verbs.

What really bugs me about grownups is that they’re all sitting around worrying about how much we kids are worrying about the facts of life instead of realizing that we don’t hardly ever think about it at all.

Well, like I told you, I could care a whole lot more, but I guess you could say that I know. So I gave Missy a quick run-down on as much as I could remember about “life’s most beautiful experience” (that’s what the Head calls it) and she just said, “Oh. That,” like I knew she would.

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