Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW: Turnabout by Thorne Smith

Turnabout, written in 1931 and re-published for Kindle in 2011, is an enjoyable and entertaining farce by Thorne Smith - an accomplished writer of that era who also penned, among his many works, the novel Topper. It’s a sardonic and almost Marx Brothers look at the gender roles and social mores of that time.

Turnabout features a classical battle of the sexes, with all the nastiness, jealousy and philandering you would want, in the context of way too much drinking.  It’s a book about an unhappily married couple, constantly bickering, and at each others throats. Each is so displeased with their particular lot in life that they often wish aloud that they could be in the others' shoes. Of course, just be careful what you wish.

When the continuous arguing of this couple triggers the frustration and ire of Mr. Ram, an ancient dog-faced Egyptian bedside idol, things become way too much for this little god and he can no longer bear to hear any more, so he facilitates the couple getting their desire, causing them to switch bodies. This swap takes place a full one-third in to the novel, so be patient. You need to first deal with (and be very annoyed at) the same things that irk Mr. Ram. When later the wife impregnates her husband, things go from bad to worse as they attempt to deal with the boorish behavior of object of the former wife's affections.

The scene in which the husband, now ensconced in his wife’s body, takes revenge on his wood-be suitor, is one of the book’s highlights. Turnabout is a really well written comedy, filled with plenty of high and low brow humour, double entendre, and unbridled sarcasm, with a dash of barbed sexism from both sides of the gender coin thrown in for good measure. Although first published 80 years ago, it’s not really outdated, and offers a good glimpse into sexist gender roles of the era, many of which live on through our present times.

[Reviewed by Samuel]

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