Auntie Mame

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Auntie Mame 
An Irreverent Escapade 
by Patrick Dennis 

This classic defies just about any conventional assumptions that most classics bring to mind.  The book is episodic. It starts with Patrick, a 10-year-old boy who is orphaned and about to move in with his eccentric aunt. Each chapter tells a new story about their adventures, tracing his upbringing all the way through college. 

Auntie Mame is narcissistic and dramatic, but it makes for entertaining disasters. It reminded me a bit of all the predicaments that Wooster gets into in the Jeeves books. She constantly comes up with new schemes and then finds herself in trouble. There’s one section, Southern Belle, where she ends up on horseback chasing after a fox. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. 

Other episode feature a less flattering view of her as she flirts with younger men or exploits people who offer her a favor. She’s one of the most extreme characters I’ve come across. She won’t ever be tamed and any day with her is sure to defy expectations. 

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed it, but never felt completely sucked into her world. While Wooster is a loveable screw-up, Mame makes decisions based solely on whatever she desires in that moment. Usually those decisions put her nephew in a tricky position. That grew a bit tiresome as the book went on, just as being friends with a real person like Auntie Mame surely would.   

"My dear, a rich vocabulary is the true hallmark of every intellectual person. Here now -" she burrowed into the mess on her bedside table and brought forth another pad and pencil - "every time I say a word, or you hear a word, but you don't understand, you write it down and I'll tell you what it means. Then you memorize it and soon you'll have a decent vocabulary. Oh, the adventure," she cried ecstatically, "of molding a new little new life!" She made another sweeping gesture that somehow went wrong because she knocked over the coffee pot and I immediately wrote down six new words which Auntie Mame said to scratch out and forget about. 

“She was built along the lines of a General Electric refrigerator and looked like a cross between Caligula and a cockatoo.” 

Funny Sidenote: Apparently Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the same playwrights behind “Inherit the Wind”, wrote the successful play version of Auntie Mame.


Trisha said...

I read and reviewed this way back in 2009 - - and I loved it. I ended up using an excerpt in my Intro to Lit course, and the students were impressed with it as well.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trisha - Can't wait to read your thoughts!