ACRES AND PAINS, by S. J. Perelman. Reynal & Hitch cock, 126 pp. $2.00.
Those poor souls whose work-a-day lives are punctuated by the pipe-dream of a home in Pennsylvania's Bucks County are due for a rude awakening. Long fabled as the city dweller's Valhalla, a land inhabited by glittering artistic folk and their swimming pools, ol debbil Bucks County squirms evilly under the pen of master funnyman S. J. Perelman. In this newest offering, Mr. Perelman has created a sometimes hilarious expose of a plague spot overgrown with Japanese beetles and a gigantic land crab often called "the rustic."
Described as "America's most precious lunatic" by ordinarily venomous critics, Perelman occupies his own peculiar niche among top-ranking humorists. His biting, savoury style, bolstered by an endless supply of weird adjectives, signals a rocking belly laugh among even the most profound readers. For this adulation Perelman depends upon a speedy change of pace in the sequence of stories, the ridiculous image, and a willingness to play the fool for the benefit of his audience.
"Acres and Pains" tries hard to laugh its way into the honor spot conceded "Crazy Like a Fox" and "Dawn Ginsberg's Revenge," but falls somewhat short of red-hot. Perelman subjects must be taken in short doses to remain fresh, but, "Acres and Pains" lacks the necessary shift of topic, becoming a well-executed, if occasionally heavy rehash of life on the farm. Composed of a series of magazine articles filled in with new material, the book does not show a continuous level of quality throughout. The older, more familiar chapters emphasize the bawdy wit of Perelman at his finest, while the latest material seems overly polished and forced.
Perhaps one of the greatest faults in "Acres and Pains" is Mr. Perelman's singularly bad choice of an illustrator. R. Osborn appears much more at home snarling at the backside of an Army Brass Hat than attempting to convey the tone of Perelman's brand of humor. The vicious, Stieg-like cartoons that made his fame in "War Is No Damned Good" have no place beside Perelman's cutting, though entireless harmless, wit. Some of the drawings are excellent, particularly a picture of two bloodthirsty children, but for the largest part they misfire and confuse the effect. These badly chosen illustrations cripple an already spotty collection of stories.
Although "Acres and Pains" lacks the speed and lightness to place it among his earlier productions, there is enough excellent material to give Perelman fans a small, if not wholly satisfying, stitch in the side.