Monday, May 5, 2008

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

My husband's relationship with his maternal grandmother has been described to me many times as having strong parallels to the relationship between Patrick Dennis (the character) and his Auntie Mame. Because of this, I was predisposed to love the Rosalind Russell movie, which I did, and I expected to enjoy the book as well. Even with these lofty expectations, and the hope that I'd feel a personal connection on some level, the book was a great pleasure to read.

Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis, is a superb exercise in storytelling and in character development. The book's Auntie Mame is even more gregarious than the character in the movie. She lives her life according to her rules and philosophies, leading to the anticipated madcap adventures, but also to complex relationships between herself and those she loves.

Eccentric Auntie Mame immerses herself in everything she does with unrivaled gusto. From the parties she throws to the professions she pursues, she gives it her all. She's got her finger on the pulse of the trendy and fashionable, in culture as well as in clothing. Mame is rich, fast-living, open-minded, and very fond of gin (the drink, not the card game).

Patrick lands in Mame's charge as a 10-year-old boy, and immediately becomes the primary object of Mame's devotion. She spends the following years doing all that she can to mold him into a smart and charming man. From education to father figure to bride, Mame is determined that Patrick will have only what she considers to be the best. Above all, Mame wants to keep Patrick from suffering the same fate as his father by becoming snobbish, material, stodgy, or anything else that she eschews.

Over half a century old, Auntie Mame stands the test of time and is still hilarious. The one criticism I have is of the literary device Dennis uses. When the book was written, the Reader's Digest was enormously popular, and Dennis uses the Unforgettable Character theme to set the stage for the various anecdotes that Patrick recounts. I'll grant that this was probably quite clever when the book was published, but it now seems tiresome and lame. That said, it doesn't keep this from being a really funny book which I'd strongly recommend.

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