Bluebeard’s Goat and Other Stories

H.L. Mencken, edited by S.T. Joshi. Dufour, $16.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8023-1354-6
The flamboyant critic Mencken, one of the most prominent literary figures of his day, once remarked, “Criticism is prejudice made plausible.” Readers seeking the brilliant wit that, in Mencken’s nonfiction, succeeded in unmasking hypocrites, had better skip this short fiction, wherein the author makes no effort to mask his prejudices. Mencken grazes on raw irritation, not so much with politicians or the pious, but with underlings of various races, and especially women. Even if he could be forgiven for being a product of his time, the stories, written between 1900 and 1919, are not only tainted by but feed on misogyny. Perhaps these moments, horrid despite the author’s superb, clever, or hilarious use of language, are best thought of as social history. Read “Epithalamium,” a sendup of the social rigmarole of marriage for its exquisite choice of words (“the nuptial mass or other such ecclesiastical and incomprehensible ceremonial”), or the Poe-esque “The Window of Horrors,” about a clothier and his obsession with life-like mannequins, for its chills. For quintessential Mencken, read “The Man of God,” whose lowly grocer becomes an evangelist. Avoid the title story about a cad who, after an afternoon with yet another mistress, buys a bunch of violets, “and then with a brisk step hurries on home to his wife.” (Dec. 4)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2012
Release date: 12/01/2012
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