Pithing away one's youth

Or, the virtues of the junior aphorist

The more life you’ve lived, the less it all seems to fit into a pithy phrase. You’ve just seen too many exceptions to the rule. And that’s why the junior aphorist is the best person to stand next to at a party. 

In the absence of a party invite, you might try Marlowe Granados’s Happy Hour. This delightful novel captures that youthful insouciance in the present tense. It features a refreshing lack of eat-your-veggies personal growth, perhaps because the heroines subsist mainly on hot dogs. And, most important, our 21-year-old narrator Isa sharpens her axioms on nearly every page. When she’s asked if she’s a mystic, Isa responds that “last week someone called me an ‘aphorist’ and that must mean the same thing.”

She owes a debt to Oscar Wilde and repays it with avid interest. Wilde published the quipbook Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young when he was 40, whereas Granados finished Happy Hour at the age of 25. The result is an invigorating lack of world-weariness. Or as Isa says,

It takes practice to have restraint, and we are not yet at an age to try it out.

Isa is always going out, scraping by, and writing it all down in her diary, a format that lets her explain the source of her wit:

I realize now, the older you get, the harder it is to be impressed because people make you feel ashamed of ever being impressed by anything at all. I keep many glowing remarks to myself because of this.

Her universal aphorisms are high-quality homages to some of the greats:

You should always keep old friends happy because they know more about you than you’d like.

Often, people who are tired of themselves are inexhaustibly curious.

Some people know they deserve to be taken advantage of and that’s what makes them so fun to be around.

Newly minted men are always looking to be punished.

It’s always enough for people to merely acknowledge things. It requires little effort and alleviates the most guilt.

But it’s the specific retorts of use to a young woman of colour that really sparkle:

“What is your history? Where are you from? Your parents, I mean.” ... Having heard that line before, I turned my shoulder at him and lowered my eyes in a move my mother would have called “coquettish.” I said, “Are you asking why I’m so pretty? If you are, just ask me that.” Did you know it is possible to push back without anyone even noticing?

All these reveries of youth brought me back, albeit only two years, to GWQ No.3. The subject of that issue was Anita Loos, the soubrette of satire and one of Marlowe Granados’s inspirations. Loos’s writing advice, infused throughout Happy Hour, shines steadfast:

Above all things the scenario writer should keep alive. Just keep yourself with lively, laughing, thinking people, think about things yourself, and cultivate a respect for new ideas of any kind. Take care of these small ideas and the big plots will take care of themselves.

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Quick quips; lightning

“I must take issue with the term ‘a mere child,’ for it has been my invariable experience that the company of a mere child is infinitely preferable to that of a mere adult.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”
— Oscar Wilde

“Everybody my age should be issued with a 2lb fresh salmon. If you see someone young, beautiful and happy, you should slap them as hard as you can with it.”
— Richard Griffiths, spoken at age 60


Enjoy yourself; Get Wit Quick No. 107 arrived later than you think. Happy Hour is secretly Canadian, meaning the characters express their nationality through misunderstood drink orders — there are neither double doubles nor liquid Caesars in New York City. The book is already out in Canada and will publish stateside on Sept. 7. Rachel Woroner took the photo of the author at the top of this post. Merely acknowledging my book Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting requires little effort. Tap the small ❤️ below and the big plots will take care of themselves.