Sunday, June 8, 2008

LIFE WITH FATHER by Clarence Day

Life with Father is a collection of anecdotes by Clarence Day, Jr., mostly having to do with his childhood and primarily involving his father. The primary reason Life with Father is so fascinating is because Clarence Day, Sr. is larger than life. The man is domineering, meticulous, and tyrannical, yet is also, in his own way, loving and good-natured. His interactions with his wife are particularly entertaining.

Many incidents reported here occur in the 1880s and 1890s, and this book provides great insights into nineteenth-century American life. The chapter on how the family first came to own a telephone particularly shows how very far America has come.

Day’s writing style is typically matter-of-fact, excepting a few occasions, particularly when he writes about himself. This style serves to highlight his family’s absurdities, which is where much of the humor comes from.

Worth mentioning here is the marvelous 1947 film starring William Powell, which is based on the play, which is in turn based on Life with Father and several other of Day’s books. Neither the book nor the movie draw a large audience in the twenty-first century, but a number of people do come to the book after seeing the film, and filtering the book through the lens of the movie’s cast does help accentuate its humor.

Life with Father is an excellent and humorous book, perhaps best read in small doses so as not to dilute the effect. It is also a very interesting window into nineteenth century America.