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Without a Stitch in Time

A Selection of the Best Humorous Short Pieces

Harking from the golden age of fiction set in American suburbia—the school of John Updike and Cheever—this work from the great American humorist Peter De Vries looks with laughter upon its lawns, its cocktails, and its slightly unreal feeling of comfort. Without a Stitch in Time, a selection of forty-six articles and stories written for the New Yorker between 1943 and 1973, offers pun-filled autobiographical vignettes that reveal the source of De Vries’s nervous wit: the cognitive dissonance between his Calvinist upbringing in 1920s Chicago and the all-too-perfect postwar world. Noted as much for his verbal fluidity and wordplay as for his ability to see humor through pain, De Vries will delight both new readers and old in this uproarious modern masterpiece.

336 pages | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2014

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


“Perhaps it is because his unrestrained use of outrageous puns and similar verbal low comedy is so dazzling that we tend to slight his other talents as a humorist. But the range of his performance is hard to equal. . . . De Vries produces something that is more than brilliant entertainment.”

Paul Showers | New York Times

“The beauty of a pun is in the eye of the beholder. . . . For between the punch lines, De Vries shows himself as a lapsed Calvinist who sees the world as a reproach to that incurable hypocrite, man. Irony is De Vries’s weapon, and this collection of fugitive pieces extends his gallery of not always humane inconsistencies.”


“The funniest serious writer to be found on either side of the Atlantic.”

Kingsley Amis

“Contains some of De Vries’s finest stories . . . . One of the things I appreciate most about [them] is the way they show how humor is a double-edged sword. It can cut through trivial cocktail-party banter to reveal the heart of things, like the jester who’s the only person in the medieval court allowed to mock the pompous king. But it can also be a weapon a speaker wields to keep others away, forming a protective distance of irony. De Vries grasps both possibilities. . . . Lurking beneath these humorous flights is a void these characters do their best to ignore. It goes unspoken, but it shows up in their vanities and their all-too-relatable attempts to be the smartest person in his room. If life is nothing more than a popularity contest, you’d better be damned sure you’re popular.”

Jonathan Hiskes | Curator

“De Vries was an editor at Poetry magazine, a staff writer at The New Yorker, and the author of some two dozen of the wittiest novels you’ll ever read, including the masterworks The Blood of the Lamb and Slouching Toward Kalamazoo, as well as The Tunnel of Love and Reuben, Reuben, just resurrected in handsome paperback by the University of Chicago Press. . . . De Vries is equally deft in the short-form: Without a Stitch in Time—also just reissued by the University of Chicago Press—compiles personal essays and stories in which the uninvited nostalgia of an ex-Calvinist finds itself defenseless against the cleverness of an assertive and secular humorist. Only those with a consummate lack of cleverness wield the word ‘clever’ as an insult, and De Vries demonstrates just how much can be done with a creative intelligence charged by the clever and satirical and ironic. Let us now praise those saints at the University of Chicago Press who possess the smarts and good taste to return to print a peerless American maestro of wit.”

William Giraldi | The Millions

“A decade ago, the off-kilter universe created by Peter De Vries was almost forgotten—his work out of print, relegated to the shelves and Web sites of antiquarian booksellers. But thanks to the University of Chicago Press, which has reissued attractive paperback editions of five of his books so far, the emergency is over.”

Jeffrey Frank | Washington Post

“Quick with quips so droll and witty, so penetrating and precise that you almost don’t feel them piercing your pretensions, Peter De Vries was perhaps America’s best comic novelist not named Mark Twain. . . . It’s something of a crime against literature that De Vries, whose novels of the 1950s and early ’60s made wonderful sport of postwar striving, the middle-class move to the suburbs, and generational clashes that would render major cultural shifts just a few years hence, has mostly been forgotten. . . . Literature—in the form of the University of Chicago Press—is making amends for its lapses by re-issuing the best of De Vries’ works, five comic tomes long out of print.”

Sam McManis | Sacramento Bee

Table of Contents

A Hard Day at the Office
Slice of Life
Flesh and the Devil
Mud in Your Eye
Afternoon of a Faun
Interior with Figures
Good Boy
Every Leave That Falls
A Crying Need
In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Lowenbriiu
The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, I’m Explicating
The Independent Voter at Twilight
The Conversational Ball
Adventures of a People Buff
Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk
The House of Mirth
Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold
From There to Infinity
Reuben, Reuben
Touch and Go
Fall Guy
You and Who Else?
Nobody’s Fool
Double or Nothing
Journey to the Center of the Room
Different Cultural Levels Eat Here
The Man Who Read Waugh
The Art of Self-dramatization; or, Forward from Schrecklichkeit
The Children’s Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda
The Irony of It All
Laughter in the Basement
Part of the Family Picture
You Know Me Alice
A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied
The Last of the Bluenoses
Scones and Stones
Forever Panting
James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock
Exploring Inner Space

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