Thurber Reading at Fire Island Synagogue

By Alia DerrieySeaview residents gathered Wednesday, Aug. 7, to read and discuss James Thurber’s short story “The Catbird Seat.” The reading, led by Arlene Kossoff, was the last of this summer’s literature-themed events, part of the Wednesday night activity program that also includes frequent game nights. Kossoff chose the story by the famed modern humorist to end the summer on a comic note following the more serious story they’d read previously.“The Catbird Seat” follows Erwin Martin – neurotic, weak, resentful – as he seeks revenge against the domineering Ulgine Barrows. This gender conflict, a key theme in Thurber’s work, ensures the story is a dark social commentary as well as comedic entertainment.As Kossoff informed us, Thurber had an unusual life. At age 7, his brother accidentally blinded him with a bow and arrow. Despite this he went on to become not only a celebrated author but a noted cartoonist, publishing many of his short stories and cartoons in The New Yorker where he was a staff editor. Some of his most famous stories include “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which was adapted to film twice, and “The Last Flower,” which is featured in the 1972 film “The War Between Men and Women.”After learning about the author, the group took turns reading paragraphs of the story. Between speakers, Kossoff invited attendees to discuss their impressions of the story so far. They asked each other questions (including a fundamental question: who do we root for?), debated the author’s intentions and shared personal insights into the text. The story prompted Dick, for example, to reminisce about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Southern sayings sports commentator Red Barber introduced to Brooklyn.Attendees praised Thurber’s beautiful writing and great choice of words. By the end of the story, participants remarked that it had been surprising and extremely visual. “Evoking a Hitchcock film,” said one participant.Hitchcock-like as the dramatic storm that rolled in just as the event was winding down? Perhaps both James and Alfred were listening.