Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Last Word

Kays last two books amount, rather sadly, to little more than an addendum, a footnote to a career that was ofttimes marked by huge popularif not critical—success.

Out of My Mind from 1943 is a collection ofwhat, exactly? Observations, musings, and vignettesabout life and love and aging and language and Christmas and travelthat had previously been published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Good Housekeeping, and Readers DigestAnd War. More than a few of the pieces are about War. Not surprising, given the time. 

Most of the pieces seem dated and irrelevant today, but the best of them have a certain timelessness about them:

It's New York. It's the town that out-of-towners wouldn't live in if you gave it to themand neither would New Yorkers, as far as that goes. Not if you gave it to them. What they like is paying and paying and paying. That's obvious. ("Bronx Cheer For Manhattan")

There is no proper day or date for mailing out your Christmas cards, and no matter when you do it, you'll be wrong. Here we have a problem which—though annual and universal—has never been solved by anybody in the history of man. For if you mail your greetings late, with a view to getting them there on Christmas Day, you are (a) burdening the post office, and (b) giving the recipients the impression that you only remembered to address a card to them after their card came. Whereas, if you mail early, it's just the reverse, as everybody knows. In that case you will never be sure whether the influx of greetings that you yourself receive at the last minute is truly affectionate, or merely dutifully reciprocal. You will never (I repeat) be at all sure. But you'll suspect. ("Merry You-Know-What")

This Man and This Woman appeared in 1944 and gathered together four magazine stories, the earliest of which dated all the way back to 1936 (Free Woman, mentioned previouslyand which were now re-categorized as short novels.

Free Woman is probably the best of the lotwhat with Harriet Lansingwho seems so to have everythinglosing the one thing that matters most in the world to her in an ironic twist of fate. Kays best stories always end with an ironic twist.

And Two to New York has the glamorous and soigné atmosphere of vintage Brush, even if it is marred by an overly sentimentalized ending played out against a backdrop of the Pearl Harbor attack. But, hey, I wasnt around for Pearl Harbor, and I imagine it was as good an excuse for sentimentalized endings as ever there was.

This Man and This Woman does not, certainly, represent The Best of Katharine Brush. Writing in The Saturday Review, Sara Henderson Hay felt that, having already appeared in the pages of Good Housekeeping and Redbook, the stories would seem to have served their purpose. To put them into a book is a bit like trying to immortalize yesterdays omelette. I am sorry to say that I am inclined to agree.

This Man and This Woman was issued in two different dust jackets

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