‘Rally Round the Flag’ serves up Cold War satire

Reading Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1957) was another blast from the past, as I remember reading this mid-20th century satire when I was much too young to really understand a lot of the humor, but enjoying the fact that I was reading something that felt “grown-up”.

Max Shulman (who also wrote The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which the classic TV show was based on), skewers the fictional Connecticut town of Putnam’s Landing, which in the post-World War II era is transitioning from flinty Yankee village to bedroom commuter for New York City commuters. He spares none of the groups that make up the social strata of the town: the old-money original residents and their variously sullen and perky offspring, the flood of Italian immigrants who make up the working and service class, and the hopelessly suburban commuters. The three groups come together in spectacular fashion to do battle at the annual Fourth of July festivities with a fourth set of interlopers: soldiers who populate a new missile base in town.

I liked least the sexist humor about husbands being helpless to resist their wives’ demands. The ethnic humor didn’t seem particularly offensive to me, since I grew up in an Italian family not far away either in distance or time that would have fit in perfectly among the Italians of Putnam’s Landing. Shulman is even-handed in his ridicule, with every group coming in for their fair share of digs, which keeps any of it from feeling like punching down.

I’m glad I re-read this as part of a shared read with another member of LibraryThing. While it didn’t seem quite as hilariously transgressive as I remember it from my childhood, there were still some laugh-out-loud bits that made it worth the time.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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