Charles Petzold

Summer Reading: “The Prick of Noon”

August 16, 2006
Roscoe, NY

Consider the following:

Every summer reading list could benefit from a Peter De Vries novel. The Prick of Noon (Little, Brown and Company, 1985) is late De Vries — his earliest novels date from the 1940's and he died in 1993 — which means that it's not quite up to the standards of some of his earlier work, and it may be a tad bawdy for some tastes, but it still hits a satisfying level of lingual pyrotechnics and comic brilliance.

The narrator of The Prick of Noon is Eddie Teeters, who breezes into Merrymount, Connecticut with his loud suits, pretentious (and often fractured) language, and a taste for the ladies. He's a bit of a jerk, but an oddly endearing jerk, who has few illusions about his background and aspirations.

Of Eddie's suits someone comments "I have no objections to stripes that size, though I prefer them on awnings." (p. 175)

What no one knows is that Eddie Teeters earns his money under the pseudonym Monty Carlo, the producer of VHS "training films" for the maritally challenged, many starring the actress Mea Culpa. But Governor Frisch of the Moral Majority knows it when he sees it, and is campaigning to have Monty Carlo tried and convicted, or, as the Variety headline puts it, "Frisch Flails Fresh Flesh Flicks." (p. 81)

If Eddie gets targeted by the Moral Majority, it would help if he was able to display some old-fashioned family values. Eddie needs to get married and fast. His primary target is Cynthia Pickles, obviously out of his league, but whose old-money gentility is just enough for the social elevation Eddie requires. If only Eddie didn't get along so well with Cynthia's despised step-mother,

Eddie also enjoys the company of Toby Snapper, a waitress with an annoying habit of adopting a Cockney accent for sarcasm. She describes one of Eddie's movies with "Oi understand hit won a prize at the Ash-Cannes Festival. In the documentary category Oi believes they call it." (p. 65) But Eddie's also not ruling out Roxy Winch, the girl Friday of Eddie's friend Chirouble, a publisher who manages not to lose money by avoiding publishing any books.

How long can Eddie Teeters keep up the charade juggling three women and his alter ego? Was buying the 30-foot mauve stretch limo really the best way to keep a low profile? When two teenage girls get pregnant after watching one of Eddie's movies, the jig appears to be up.

As a De Vries novel approaches it's conclusion (The Prick of Noon is 233 pages long), part of the fun is watching how a true master ties up all the loose ends into a tidy conclusion. De Vries is nothing if not fastidious.

The title comes from Romeo and Juliet, of course. (Gosh, you have a dirty mind.)