Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

In Mike and Psmith , Psmith is a young man at a boy’s school; in this installment, he’s aged a bit and begun to grapple with the adult business world. Book three, Psmith Journalist , sees him ditching dull responsibility and having a battle of the wills with gangsters in New York City, just because he can. He’s a man’s man (not a gentleman’s gentleman, though–that’d be Jeeves) in a slowly widening man’s world. In the fourth and final book, Leave it to Psmith , his universe finally expands enough to include a love interest. It’s like an extreme version of the masculine coming-of-age process.

The reader stand-in is Mike, a nice enough guy whose entire purpose in the series is to not be Psmith. The first two books follow a fairly winning pattern–a) Mike is stuck somewhere he doesn’t want to be, b) Psmith shows up and it’s not so bad. But interestingly, it’s not Psmith’s tendency toward bizarreness and anarchy that improves things for Mike (though that helps)–it’s simply and solely the fact that Psmith is in it with him. Mike is an uncomplicated character, and all he really wants is someone who can agree that, yes, this is a grim situation, but it doesn’t have to be that bad, now let’s go get something to eat. And honestly, can’t we all relate? If I ever wash up in a new and lonely place, my prayer is that someone like Psmith will be hanging around saying, “You too?”

This time, Mike’s parents have lost a lot of their money, and Mike has to drop out of Sedleigh and work at a bank in London. (Poor Mike–it seems it’s his lot in life to clear out of a place as soon as he’s gotten used to it.) It turns out Psmith is there, too, for a reason which escapes me but which is, frankly, completely irrelevant. There’s not much of a plot–it’s really more a series of scenes–but Psmith’s commentary is always hilarious. You may find yourself tempted to apply his methods while on the job.

The problem with characters under the Manic Pixie category is that, by definition, they hold all the personality, and their poor partners get the short end of the stick. I always prefer my literary duos–whether they be couples or comedy teams–to have equally developed, but conflicting, personalities. (Wodehouse later mastered this dynamic when he wrote the Jeeves and Wooster series.) Mike is a human springboard for Psmith’s dialogue, which is fine, but occasionally I get aggravated by his unimaginative responses. If I had a buddy who talked like Psmith, I’d spend all my free time thinking of witty comebacks.

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