The Small Bachelor, P.G. Wodehouse
After such an intense read as The Fiery Trial, I needed something completely different, and I pulled The Small Bachelor off the TBR pile almost at random. It was an inspired choice, since this is one of the funniest Wodehouse books that I've read in a long time.
As I've mentioned before, for many years I thought of P.G. Wodehouse only in terms of Jeeves and stories set in England. The Small Bachelor is a stand-alone, set in New York City. PGW wrote in the Introduction that he took the plot from a show he did with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern, called Oh Lady! The book was originally published in 1926, and I am finding that the books of the 1920s and the early 1930s have a comic energy and a fizz that are missing in some of the later books. This book had me laughing out loud in almost every chapter.
The story revolves around George Finch, originally from East Gilead, Idaho, who thanks to an early inheritance has come to New York, to Greenwich Village, to be an artist. A rotten painter, he is the small bachelor of the title, who has fallen in love - from afar - with Molly Waddington. Abetting and obstructing the course of true love is a typical Wodehousian cast, including George's friend J. Hamilton Beamish, author of the famous Beamish Booklets ("Read Them and Make the World Your Oyster"); George's servant, a reformed burglar named Mullett; a tall policeman named Garroway, whom Beamish is teaching to write poetry; Molly's father, Sisgbee H. Waddington, whose dreams of life on the open prairie are nourished by a secret stash of Zane Grey novels; his wife and Molly's stepmother, a shrewish and ambitious woman; and a medium named Madame Eulalie.
The edition I have was printed in the 1970s, and it has a most unfortunate cover. The women that presumably represents Molly looks like an Edward Gorey figure, with a tiny face enveloped in a huge black hooded coat. But worse than that is her long orange skirt, printed with figures of half-peeled bananas. Really, what art director, even in the 1970s, approved that?