Auntie Mame was probably seen as a mixed blessing for its author Patrick Dennis. While it was a huge success, and spun off a play, a musical and two films, and made Dennis a famous writer, it also cast a looming shadow over the rest of his work. The Joyous Season is a fun, light, frothy story that shares many elements with Dennis’ more famous novel. The novel, published in 1964, also is an interesting look at high society, divorce, homosexuality and the various social movements of the era.
The novel is narrated by Kerrington, or “Kerry,” a precocious ten-year old who has a decidedly barbed view of his situation. After a particularly disastrous Christmas, his parents decide to divorce, setting off a series of comic events. Like Auntie Mame, there’s an episodic structure to the novel. Readers are given mini vignettes of Kerry’s parents both trying to garnish the favor of his affection and the affection of his loopy six-year old sister Missy. Kerry’s dad falls in love with Miss Glen and the kids are thrust into the Bohemian craze of the New York fashion industry; mom gets the kids into high society when she gets involved with a respectable lawyer whose mother was a suffragette and social activist.
There are shades of Jacqueline Susann in The Joyous Season. There is a queer sensibility in the novel – not only because of the various peripheral gay characters, but there’s a definite gay bent to the narration. Kerry’s droll ruminations of his surroundings has him come off as a shrunken Oscar Wilde. There’s also a witty bitchiness and cattiness to Kerry’s observations (as well as some vaguely homoerotic passages).
Like Auntie Mame, there’s a madcap insanity that takes up a lot of the action. Missy is probably the most foul six-year old in literature. Between wearing her grandmother’s lingerie, getting drunk and cursing like a sailer, Missy refuses to suffer fools. Instead she’s an expert BS detector (like most children), and no one – especially the impossibly false Miss Glen – can fool Missy with insincerity.
The Joyous Season is extremely light – in fact, so light, it’s in danger of floating away. Dennis could’ve addressed the social problems and ills of the 1960s with a heavier hand – he blithely mentions the Civil Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution, but doesn’t do much with these developments. The class tension also could have been looked at more deeply, as well – there is a marked stratification of socio and economic levels in this book. Again, Dennis gives these more serious topics a glance, but given how piercing his pen could be, it would’ve been nice for him to dig deeper.
Because of the often-hilarious action as well as the colorful characters, The Joyous Season would be a prime candidate for a film adaptation. There is a sophisticated, screwball comedy to it. And even though most readers won’t remember much about the book, it’s still a highly enjoyable, and sometimes laugh-out-loud read.