The other day I recalled – for no reason I can state – a movie I saw in my college days. It was Pete ‘n Tillie, starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Some friends and I saw it cheap at a second run theater somewhere in Minneapolis. I didn’t like it much.
And yet, having thought of it, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I discovered, to my surprise, that it was based on a novel called Witch’s Milk, by Peter De Vries.
And that reminded me of Peter De Vries. He was a prominent novelist back in those days. A Dutch Calvinist from Chicago, he had served in the OSS in World War II (very hush-hush), and eventually went to the work for the New Yorker, at the invitation of James Thurber.
His Wikipedia article quotes James Bratt, who called him “a secular Jeremiah, a renegade CRC missionary to the smart set.” However, this interesting article from Image Journal describes him as essentially an atheist.
De Vries dwelled in familiar settings because he wanted to dismantle the belief systems that struck him as too smug or self-sufficient. Religion was his enduring target, but he also mocked modern medicine, psychoanalysis, feminism, academia, and the advertising industry.
I’m not really qualified to pass judgment on him. I only read one of his novels, The Glory of the Hummingbird, which left a lasting impression on me, but did not inspire me to read more of his books. He was one of those authors I didn’t feel qualified to grapple with.
The Wikipedia article says all his books were out of print at the time of his death in 1993. I am happy to report that some are now available in Kindle form (like the works of that other brilliant but neglected author, Lars Walker). The Blood of the Lamb is the most famous.