I was somewhat disappointed in Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis. This was another book that had the reputation of being clever that didn’t resonate with me. It was entertaining at times, in a light period kind of way, but I didn’t find myself saying, ‘oh, the wit, the wit!’ as I read. I certainly enjoyed the detailed description of the various styles and fads of the era, in clothing, entertainment, and especially home decoration, as well as the attempts of the child narrator to make sense of the somewhat ludicrous setting in which he found himself. Beyond these elements, though, the attacks on middle class mundanity didn’t really do much for me.
Reading books like this makes me realize that what critics, reviewers and fans call clever, witty, or cutting, I frequently find boring and mean-spirited. Anyone can insult someone else, and judgments of taste are only funny when we share them. Insults dressed up as ‘biting social commentary’ are still just name-calling and trash-talking. This kind of thing can be a breath of fresh air when everyone’s pretending to agree, however it’s not quite as entertaining when it’s coming from those with greater social power. Cleverness has historically been a way to rise in a social hierarchy, through education or wit, and as such is a much vaunted personal characteristic. The exercise of cruel wit, though, seems most frequently to be a tool for enforcing those hierarchies, and as such, it’s not a habit I respect.