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THE MEN WILL FEAR YOU AND THE WOMEN WILL ADORE YOU by William Hamilton (St. Martin’s: $5.95; 96 pp., cartoons)

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It is not safe to go around quoting William Hamilton cartoon captions, the way one can do with, say, James Thurber’s.

There would be no social danger in being overheard saying, “What do you want to be inscrutable for , Marcia?” or “With you I have known peace, Ida, and now you say you’re going crazy,” or “This is not the real me you’re seeing, Mrs. Clisbie.”

While anyone so unfortunate as to be ignorant of Thurber would not be able to conjure the accompanying round, bland-faced creatures caught in the throes of thrashing convention, he would at least not suspect the quoter of attempted originality. In Thurberland, you can tell the satire from the neighbors.

But while Hamilton works the same crowd of mild-mannered strivers who have clearly done mental and emotional labor to come up with the cliches of the day, he cuts closer to reality.

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Here are a few of his dot-eyed people in their well-fitted suits or polo shirts, with their copper pots or state-of-the-art telephones sketched in the background:

Satisfied businessmen after concluding conference call: “Only doubts about his masculinity kept him from openly crying.”

Adolescent at dinner: “Oh, great! You’ve failed me emotionally and now you want me to wash the dishes!”

Young woman parting from her date: “Thanks--once in a while it’s kind of a relief to just be superficial.”

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Two young men at a bar: “She’s really old-fashioned. She lets you pay for everything.”

Older men at a bar: “I couldn’t agree more--China is going to be a very big thing.”

Guest to hostess: “You have a very, very funny bathroom.”

Small girl in plaid skirt: “She’s not here at the moment. You might try her work situation.”

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The boss at the office party: “Merry Christmas, folks. And I want to say I couldn’t be president of this great company without the support of each and every one of you, or people very much like you.”

You see what a delight Hamilton cartoons are, and what fun it would be just to go on and quote the entire book.

But perhaps you also see the danger. People do talk like that.

Among the first rank New Yorker cartoonists, none depicts so closely that fatal juxtaposition of psyche and trend that the magazine’s writers and advertisers present as real or idealized modern life. Hamilton’s characters are neither victims nor jokesters; their world is not zany and they are not eccentrics.

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The funniest thing about them is that they have everything under control. They are New Yorker fictional characters who keep thinking out divorces that have long since been talked out, and the advertisers’ clients who are on an endless quest for new hotels that will pamper them.

“Call me old-fashioned,” says the comfortable patron of an expensive businessmen’s restaurant, “but I like the way kids are thinking money again.” Yes, but one doesn’t want to be overheard saying so.


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