“Life is a zoo in a jungle”

Thanks again to Dave Lull for spotting this piece about Peter De Vries, novelist, New Yorker writer and aphorist, in Commentary. “De Vries is one of the best comic novelists that America has ever produced, and comic novelists do poorly over the long run of literary history,” writes D.G. Myers. “Other than Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, and perhaps Dawn Powell, Americans have tended to discard their humorists after a generation. Josh Billings, Petroleum V. Nasby, Ambrose Bierce, George Ade, Finley Peter Dunne, Will Cuppy, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Wolcott Gibbs, E. B. White, Harry Golden, S. J. Perelman, H. Allen Smith, Leonard Q. Ross — these are names from a textbook, not living writers … De Vries developed a taste for verbal humor while working on a community newspaper in Chicago after leaving school. ‘The result,’ he told an interviewer: ‘I truly enjoy local, homespun philosophers. Right on top of that I actually did write Pepigrams [e.g., “To turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones — pick up your feet”], for use as wall mottoes and such. I got two bucks a Pepigram, and they got stuck in my blood.’ Selected pepigrams:

Life is a zoo in a jungle.

There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you.

When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones.

The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.

Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair.

What people believe is a measure of what they suffer.

Human nature is pretty shabby stuff, as you may know from introspection.

We are not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.

Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle, and an end.