There is a cure!Attention those of you who are on Prozac or Zoloft or Paxil, or have just seen "Spanking the Monkey" and feel like offing yourself Phil Ochs-style with a brown leather belt.Perhaps you are just feeling gloomy. If you want a quick pick-me-up, read "Code of the Woosters," by P.G. Wodehouse.Any of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories will do, really. "Code of the Woosters" is joy, prescription strength.There is only one author I know who is consistently, reliably and massively funny, and he is P.G. Wodehouse.In the bookstore be sure to ask for "Woodhouse." Because he's British, he reserves the right to pronounce his name in a peculiar way.Our faithful narrator is Bertie Wooster, youthful gallivant and gormless aristocrat. Bertie lives in 1920s London and enjoys the casual life, which is much like that of the typical American college student. He rises at noon to spend the sliver of daylight behaving badly with the other lads (at his club, The Drone's). After a few daytime "restoratives," he is prepared to socialize till the small hours.Unlike us, he has a brilliant butler, Jeeves, to take care of all the minor details. Jeeves cooks, irons, and rescues unfortunates (usually Bertie) from compromising positions (usually arrest or marriage).Bertie is the epitome of the Edwardian upper-class gent. Full of vim and noblesse oblige, he wanders about trying hard to maintain the general welfare. Even an upper-class gent like Bertie is subject to terrible forces of nature: aunts, girls and Aberdeen terriers.Each book of the Jeeves and Wooster series is a well-spoken romp through Bertie's family, friends and environs. Parentless, Bertie's actions are at the behest of his two Aunts, Agatha and Dahlia. The aunts are notorious hard-cases, suspected of cruel and unusual past-times.Fortunately Bertie has his trusted manservant Jeeves. Bertie can always count on him to emerge ex machina, with a brilliant solution, when in a bind. The name Jeeves is presently associated with massive intelligence and capability. When in doubt go to AskJeeves.com.By no means do you need to read the books in order. References are commonly made to previous incidents, but each book has a stand-alone plot. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories are episodic humor of manner and language.Typical of Wodehouse stories, the plot of "The Code of the Woosters" is simple. Bertie, our hero, is under constant harassment from a cast of colorful characters. Among other things, he is strong-armed into stealing an 18th-century silver creamer (cow-shaped) by his nefarious Aunt Dahlia. He must also protect the relationship between Madelaine Bassett, a sap, and Gussie Fink-Nottle, a newt-fancier. If he isn't careful, he could get nicked, married or chewed to bits by an old chum's fierce Aberdeen terrier, Bartholomew. And without Jeeves' astute mind, all three would certainly befall him.Much of Wodehouse's humor comes from wordplay and description. Bertie's narration is casual, off-hand and entertaining:"No premonition of an impending doom, however, cast a cloud on my serenity as I buzzed in. I was looking forward with bright anticipation to the coming reunion with this Dahlia - she, as I may have mentioned before, being my good and deserving aunt, not to be confused with Aunt Agatha, who eats broken bottles and wears barbed wire next the skin." The contemporary American reader may find some of the language difficult. Characters will speak in a confounding, round-about way.To best understand the tone of the dialogue, it may behoove the reader to view an episode of the television adaptation; in 1990 several of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories were adapted to the screen. Hugh Laurie played Bertie with Stephen Fry as Jeeves. The show ran for four seasons - a total of 23 episodes. They are absolutely brilliant and available to rent at reputable video stores.This book is high-quality summer reading. "Code of the Woosters" was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, and is thus divided into short chapters, particularly nice for slow digestion of Wodehouse's genius.On the bus or locked away in one's safety cupboard, "Code of the Woosters" will make you smile and laugh out loud.
- Austin Knippelmeir