WHEN Miss Stern’s publishers ‘deliciously suggested’ that she write a book about ‘anything I liked, anything I jolly well liked, anything I damn well pleased,’ she chose to write about ‘myself . . . with as much as possible of myself left out.’
Miss Stern has nearly succeeded in writing an autobiography without a subject. In her flight from self-revelation she delays the reader by throwing down a variety of attractions: essays, notes copied verbatim from her notebook, humorous little sketches, discussions of the Marx Brothers, the Elsie books, the significance of Hongkong Harbor never seen. When she pops into the book in spite of herself it is to consider the meanings in her pattern drawings, usually incorporating her monogram, which she is forever making, consciously and subconsciously, on anything within reach of pencil. The obliging publishers have reproduced two.
Her childhood and her family are touched upon. There is a bit about the Matriarch (Miss Stern’s greataunt), a baroque swirl in the vague, purposefully meandering pattern of the book. One hopes for more of the tribe Rakonitz. Instead one is put off with the Grand Canyon, oysters, the Modern Girl. . . .
Miss Stern’s manner is disarming. She has her fingers crossed. She would not be caught out being completely serious. She takes refuge in a variety of covers. Sometimes it is delightful nonsense; sometimes she approaches the Peter Pannery which she abhors. There are passages where whimsey and psychoanalysis join hands. A merry chase for the admirers of Miss Stern; others may wish her publishers had been more exacting.
I. L. S.