Wit's End

Wit's End : Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table

3.94 (51 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Hardback
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Product details

  • Hardback | 252 pages
  • 190.5 x 251.46 x 27.94mm | 975.22g
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P
  • New York, United Kingdom
  • 150ill.
  • 0151975213
  • 9780151975211

Review Text

An "interpretive, biographical essay" that scorns the old cliches about the Vicious Circle (greatest-wittery-since-Mermaid-Tavern) and embraces the slightly less old cliches: fiddling while talent burns, tears behind the hijinks, a "Bronx Zoo of contemporary neurotics. . . laughing all the way." So, instead of laughter, we're given a name-crammed, chronological account (1919-1934) that jumps from one leading light to another, vainly trying - in about 150 pages of text - to make a socio-psychological mosaic out of Parker's alcoholism and suicide tries, Benchley's writer's-block and movie sell-out, Woollcott's biased reviews and bloated persona, Kaufman's commercialism, Heyward Broun's diet, Robert Sherwood's marriage, Sacco-Vanzetti, Harold Ross, Harpo Marx, Ring Lardner, Marc Connelly, Donald Ogden Stewart, and FPA. Gaines occasionally introduces flickers of unifying motifs - sexual Victorianism, escapist gamesplaying - but, with a dozen busy, miserable lives to keep tabs on, there's not much time for that; so the generalizing most often takes the form of grossly oversimplified hook-ups that insist on projecting each poor soul's problems onto everybody else: "Dorothy Parker with her [apres waist-slashing] ribbon bracelets: there could have been no more eloquent symbol of the unhappy pass at which the Algonquin wits now found themselves." This sort of slight-of-hand might sneak by if Gaines brought a distinctive tone to bear. He does not. Leaning heavily on memoirs and such less-than-reliable biographies as Keats' You Might As Well Live, he quotes with emphasis (sometimes the same quote twice), repeats a few famous anecdotes with laugh-killing leadenness, and, on his own, produces ungainly locutions: "So completely idiosyncratic and inside was the strain of humor they were working that. . ." Algonquinistes, who have been inundated with debunking bios of late, will hardly be surprised to hear that the Round Table was "more a creature than a creator of the times" or that "the end of wit was a sounding silence," And less knowing readers will be thoroughly perplexed. With 150 illustrations and a deco-rative presentation, however, this unsatisfying text may be craftily parlayed into an unavoidable gift book. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Rating details

51 ratings
3.94 out of 5 stars
5 27% (14)
4 43% (22)
3 27% (14)
2 0% (0)
1 2% (1)
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