Reviews: Smith, Thorne

Like a mocking kiss on the cold cheek of convention

The Night Life of the Gods — Thorne Smith

I owe my encounter with 1931’s The Night Life of the Gods to Del Rey’s decision to reprint six of Thorne Smith’s comic fantasies ( Topper, Topper Takes a Trip , The Night Life of the Gods , The Stray Lamb , Rain in the Doorway , and Turnabout) in 1980. I had never heard of Thorne Smith—then—although once I had read a few of his novels, I realized that I had already encountered many of his characters and plots in movies and TV. Sometimes directly adapted from his work, sometimes inspired by it 1.

Of the six reprints, Rain in the Doorway was my favourite, but The Night Life of the Gods had a quality even Rain could not match: Night Life was my very first Thorne Smith novel. As I would learn, Smith novels tend to have very recognizable themes: unhappy middle-aged men, often married, trapped in unrewarding lives, who are freed from the doldrums of modern existence by an encounter with the whimsically fantastic, which often comes in the form of a fetching young woman.

Although I couldn’t know it at the time, this being my first Smith, Night Life subverts the Smith formula. Protagonist Hunter Hawk isn’t one of Smith’s worn-down conformists. Hunter Hawk, you see, does not give a fig for convention because Hunter Hawk is a Mad Scientist!

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