Thursday, June 11, 2020

Cline's Review of "Tales of Intrigue and Revenge" by Stephen McKenna

Here is Cline's review of Tales of Intrigue and Revenge (1925), by Stephen McKenna, as published in the Books section of The New York Herald Tribune for 27 September 1925.  It is an artfully backhanded review, wherein Cline basically says that only six of the sixteen stories published in this collection are worth reading.
“A Brilliant Residuum”

Tales of Intrigue and Revenge.
By Stephen McKenna.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company. $2.50

Here is the first collection of short stories by the deft Mr. McKenna, who, after “Sonia” and some others, is now flowing dulcifluently on toward his twentieth volume.
Mr. McKenna is a virtuoso of exceeding brilliance. What a delight it is to follow him through his deftly turned sentences! I like the language, I like a man who can use it, just as I like to listen to a nimble pianist playing aimlessly with the keys; that is, of course, for not too long at a time. The first story is “The Acid Test.” Here is a burlesque in the form of a monologue by a very silly woman of the smart type. It is done with glitter and will stand reading aloud. Entirely amusing.
One is now at page 23: “Local Rules.” Get out your paste pot and brush all around the edge, and then press page 23 against page 22 until they firmly adhere. Page 25 is then likewise welded to page 24; and so on. . . .
At page 89 one may lay aside the brush. “Poetic Justice,” the story of a hectored rhymester who enjoys free lodging for weeks at the expense of the shrewd business men who chuckle between themselves over his helplessness, is pleasant. Leonard Merrick did the thing more divertingly.
Paste . . . to page 127.
“The Payton Tradition.” A husband and four boys did Mrs. Payton lose in Flanders, the last of them reported killed only after the jubilation of Armistice Day. Yet, choking down her tears, she wishes better luck to her housemaid. . . . It is really a moving story of wartime, with an impressive picture of the madness in London when the firing ceased. One wipes one’s eyes.
And “Barnzo”? “Barnzo” is excellent humor. The poor old fellow got run down by an automobile, and when they ran to his rescue they found him all hunched up. They tried desperately to straighten him out, and finally they did it, thereby killing him. For he was indeed “barn zo,” as he had been trying to tell them all through, but it was by parturition and not by baptism. He was a hunchback.
Paste . . . to page 181.
“Myrtle” is, I am prone to maintain, a thoughtful and well realized story. Desmond, Irish rebel, is captured and sentenced to be shot. Through a night of grisly expectancy he waits, musing on his love, his cause, his every dear thing; and he sees in the passion of that revery how inconsequently all desires and aspirations can be. When word of reprieve comes in the morning he . . . yawns.
And then, “A Mister Blenkinsop, a Diarist”! Ah, but what a title! Here is satire that one who likes Max Beerbohm will enjoy, and written no less sensitively than Beerbohm would have written it.
Paste . . . to the end.
The paste pot may now be covered for the night and the book put by the bedside for occasional rereading. Much mawkishness, much snappy story triviality and much John Bull snobbishness will have been pasted out. What is left is worth reading. And Mr. McKenna is a most brilliant writer.

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