No Time for Sergeants Not So Funny Today

Cover of No Time for SergeantsMac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants is a strictly-for-laughs novel about life in the military.

Will Stockdale’s father is opposed to his son being drafted, but Will never makes a fuss about anything.

From what Will tells, readers learn he’s an amiable, Georgia redneck, dumber than a box of wet rocks and totally innocent of how the world works.

(Andy Griffith played Pvt. Will Stockdale in the TV, Broadway, and film versions of the novel, which gives you an idea of the character’s personality. You can see Griffith as Will in the  black-and-white film version  at free movies.)

Bused off to camp to be sorted for duty, Will meets Ben Whitledge, a little guy with big dreams and military knowledge straight from the silver screen.

With the best of intentions, Will and Ben make total fools of the military — and never realize what they’ve done.

Hyman drew on his Air Force experience to create his picture of military life. Readers in 1954 would have understood the military processes that baffle Will and laughed at his ignorance. Readers in today’s post-conscription era will probably be little wiser than Will.

Today’s readers probably won’t laugh as heartily as 1950’s readers either. We’ve seen too many reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies to be delighted by redneck jokes.

In short, No Time for Sergeants is past its sell-by date.

No Time for Sergeants
By Mac Hyman
Random House, 1954
214 pages
#6 on the 1954 bestseller list
My grade C-

                    2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Candy Isn’t Good for You or Anyone

Cover of Candy by Terry SouthernAccording to notes in the Book-of-the-Month Club’s edition of Candy, Terry Southern in his pitch to his novel’s eventual publisher  said, “Candy satirizes American culture.”

He might more accurately have written, “Candy satryizes American culture.”

BOMC says the novel is “a lusty romp” — I’ll accept it’s lusty — “centered around the impossibly sweet Candy Christian.”

Candy, a luscious university sophomore, is every parent’s definition of impossible, but she’s not sweet. She’s just dumb.“Good grief” is Candy’s favorite line, which shows her intellectual and emotional range.

Candy spends her days Thinking Deep Thoughts about How Best to Serve Mankind and  usually ends up merely servicing men.

She isn’t particularly choosy about the men.

Southern ran into problems finishing the story, so he called in Mason Hoffenberg to help. Together they managed to get the thing stopped, but the damage was already done.

The fact that my regional library system had culled all its copies of the 1964 bestseller is indicative of how little merit the novel had.

I rarely throw out a book, but Candy is going in the trash. It isn’t  worth the 99¢ I paid for it.

By Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
Book-of-the-Month Club edition, 1994
224 pages
1964 bestseller #2

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Innocent Visits of Elizabeth Ridicule Immorality

The Visits of Elizabeth by Elinor Glyn consists of a series of letters written by a 17-year-old girl to her invalid mother while visiting relatives who are obliged by family ties to see that Elizabeth meets eligible men.

Elizabeth is a pretty, vivacious, and principled debutant. Her  keen powers of observation and highly developed sense of the ridiculous get plenty of exercise among her aristocratic relatives and their not-so-aristocratic hangers-on. Elizabeth  regularly misunderstands the significance of what relates. Readers less innocent than Elizabeth will see what she doesn’t.

Elizabeth’s relatives and their cronies may not rate high on morals, but the family knows too well the importance of unblemished reputation if a girl is to make a good match for them to let the girl’s naïveté to get her into serious trouble.

The Visits of Elizabeth bubbles with fun and laugh-out-loud lines for those who know French and enough about 19th century European society to grasp the allusions Elizabeth misses.   Many contemporary readers, however, will miss a great deal of the plot and the most of the pleasure of this novel.

Project Gutenberg

The Visits of Elizabeth
By Elinor Glyn
1901 Bestseller 6
Project Gutenberg e-book #10959

©Linda Gorton Aragoni

Wickford Point Punctures Literary Windbags

Jim Calder is a writer. He knows his craft and he knows he’s only a craftsman. Art is not for him, nor are pretensions.

Jim’s Wickford Point cousins, with whom he makes his home, regard his work-for-food attitude with disdain.

Descended from John Brill, “The Sage of Wickford,” the cousins are willing to live off the family’s past literary greatness (minor as it was) with cheerful disregard for details like paying the grocer’s bill.  Jim is a convenient source of cash, the reliable guy the family counts on to put gas in the car.

An acquaintance of Jim’s from Harvard, Allen Southby, wants to write a book about Wickford Point. Southby is a talentless, literary stuffed shirt. He fits right in with the Brill mélange.

Jim thinks it’s time for him to leave Wickford Point, but when his girl friend suggests marriage, he hesitates.

John P. Marquand’s characters really are characters: eccentrics one and all. Marquand ridicules the ridiculous in them, but treads softly on their human frailties.

Wickford Point is marvelously funny — something between Cold Comfort Farm and The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs. But it’s also sweetly sad.

Blood is thicker than water, Marquand reminds readers.

Be it ever so absurd, there’s no place like home.

Wickford Point
By John P. Marquand
Little, Brown 1939
458 pages
1939 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B+

© 2009  Linda Gorton Aragoni