One of my favorite characters in fiction is the Storekeeper in Phil Stong's 1932 novel, State Fair. The Storekeeper is a cautious, skeptical fellow who believes that "Heaven ordains all things for the worst but more mischievously than tragically." So don't get too cocky: Don't take the chains off your tires (it's 1932 rural America, remember) just because it's spring. Heaven may have plenty of mud in store and definitely will if you do take them off.
I've probably spent too much of my allotted span reading second and third-rate fiction, but I thought of the Storekeeper while reading Calvin Trillin's Family Man. In these ruminations/memoirs about family life, Trillin holds, perhaps only half-jocularly, to a similar belief, the Evil Eye: "People who treat the Evil Eye with some respect can tell you that anyone handing out advice about family and thus implying that he and his family are so blessed, so close to perfection that it behooves them to share with others the secret of their success is asking for trouble."Trillin skirts trouble with humor and dispenses only one really solid bit of advice to prospective parents: "Try to get one that doesn't spit up." Beyond that, he says, "your children are either the center of your life or they're not, and the rest is commentary."The rest is indeed commentary on the obvious fact that his two daughters, Abigail and Sarah, have been the center of his and his wife Alice's life and exceedingly funny commentary it is. Though this book will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates humor above the level of the hotfoot (not such a huge crowd, at that, in Adam Sandler's America), it will be especially appreciated by anyone who happens to share Trillin's prejudices and outlook.
For instance, in commenting on his family's viewing and marching in the free-form, amateurish Halloween parades in their neighborhood of Greenwich Village, he says, "My interest in parades is usually limited by my failure to appreciate floats," which rigidly separate paraders and spectators.
Exactly! Why, with such an attitude, I wouldn't be surprised to hear him say that clowns are not funny. He doesn't, but he comes close in disparaging most children's theater, in which "children would shrink into the corner of their seats as foolishly dressed people on-stage favored them with stupid pratfalls or double entendres that would make ,musicals, like Pippin and West Side Story, that trigger both laughs and a child's sense of awe.
Though he might not be charmed by the comparison, as a humorist Trillin is a lot like H. Allen Smith, of blessed memory and such titles as Low Man on a Totem Pole. His approach, it might be said, is one thing leads to another. A chapter that starts out discussing changes in wedding conventions leads to the time he didn't have a spare hand with which to comfort his wife in the delivery room because one hand was holding the wallet he was advised not to leave in the locker while the other was holding up the scrub pants with played-out elastic he was given to wear.
Throughout, there is a noticeable strain of the amusing old duffer (even when younger) whom the daughters have to keep in line, of every sitcom sappy pappy from Chester A. Riley to Archie Bunker. But then, he admits that he tends toward the sitcom tone of voice when writing about domestic matters.
Behind it, though, is a definite bedrock of sophisticated common sense, revealed in the remark that both he and Alice "had upbringings whose essential squareness we valued." It's no accident that their daughters, though born in that era, did not end up with names like Moon Unit.
Though Trillin has lived all his adult life in New York City, "Alice and I both found something off-putting in New York kids we heard about who seemed not just overprivileged but oversavvy," and so from time to time they would take the girls "back home" for a "booster shot" of his native Kansas City, which he concedes has never left him.
Because, he writes, "I believe that the only time parents are absolutely relaxed about the safety and well-being of their child, of any age, is when that child is under the parents' own roof, fast asleep." That's one truism that all parents whose children are the center of their life can say "amen" to, regardless of the state of their sense of humor. Reviewed by Roger Miller.