Peter de Vries died on this day in 1993, with a long and prolific writing (and editing) career behind him. Is he still read, I wonder? I don't suppose he is on this side of the pond, where he never really caught on - but in America?
I remember reading him voraciously, back in the day, finding him an uneven but fascinating, and often very funny, novelist. Daniel Dennett has described him as 'probably the funniest writer on religion ever', and there always seemed to be in his better writings a strong tension between his fascination with religious questions and his easy way with a reductive witticism. He was raised in the Dutch Christian Reformed Church, and yet his wisecracking often sounds distinctly Jewish, in the key of Woody Allen. In the end, it was the wisecracking that won out, as De Vries turned out comedy after comedy with an almost garrulous facility. This array of quotes catches his distinctive flavour, that mix of easy gags and deeper insights. One of his aphorisms that doesn't make the cut is 'I've got a big crush on myself, but it's not reciprocated', which strikes me as a pretty good summing-up of how many of us feel about ourselves - or is that just me? And one that's guaranteed to fall every bit as flat in real life as it does in the book it's taken from - 'For I have premises to keep, and miles to mow before I sleep...' You've got to like it though - just as you've got to like De Vries, surely, if nothing else, one of the most likeable of writers.