by Booth Tarkington. Doubleday, Page & Co. Darden City, N.Y., and Toronto: 12mo, VIII+434 pp. Illustrated. $1.75.
IF the reader of Alice Adams is a woman, she lays down the book with two thoughts occupying her mind: first, that it is n’t fair for any man to comprehend the workings of a girl’s mind so clearly; and second, that here a life of pitiful tragedy is averted at the last only by a girl’s pluck and willingness to face reality. The tragedy is no less pitiful because it springs from a ghastly, soul-trying struggle to keep up appearances.
The pretty, successful, beau-attended Alice of high-school days finds herself gradually dropped by the girls in town, who, on their return from finishing school and college, ‘come out’ with all the attendant frills and furbelows with which their fathers’ money can supply them. The crisis in her social affairs is reached at a party for which she has successfully angled to secure an invitation for herself and her obnoxious brother. It is here that Mr. Tarkington shows a comprehension of girl-nature that is disconcerting, to say the least. Each little part she is obliged to play in presenting a joyous face before those dancing couples, with her own card blank, is a tragedy in itself. From the moments she manages to while away in the dressing-room, for the repair of imaginary damages, to the gay conversation with the unwilling matron who makes no effort to pretend that Alice is one of the lambs she is guarding for the evening, the tragedy of youth — and what pain is more poignant? — stalks the page. At twenty-two, unfortified by the background of wealth, clothes, or position, Alice finds that her star has set. ‘She has been a belle too soon.’
Maddened by the thought that the girl will not have her ‘chance’ with the most eligible young man who has yet come to town, and seems attracted by her, Mrs. Adams finally succeeds in driving her husband into resigning his position as clerk with ‘old J. A. Lamb,’whom he has lovingly served for forty years, and putting to use the secret formula for glue, which, he feels, rightfully belongs to his employer. The Adams’ fortunes seem to be on the rise. But the hope is shortlived. Harassed by his disloyalty to the ‘old man,’ Adams’s days are as full of misery as of work; the dinner which his wife insists on giving to the possible son-in-law turns out a dismal failure; and the climax is reached when the son, also employed at the Lamb factory, defaults with three hundred dollars.
The book contains no hero, for Alice’s eligible, of softer stuff than adamant, cannot stand proof against the slurs cast upon the father, and the feline remarks against Alice herself — ‘a pushing sort of a girl, you know.’ But we find her at last, with shoulders back, bravely walking up the steps of Frincke’s Business College; and it is a heartening sight, for she is done with shallow pretense and comes bravely to grips with reality.
In its analysis of character this is one of the best books that Booth Tarkington has yet produced. Indeed it may be said to bear the relation of a feminine ‘Twenty-two’ to the masculine Seventeen, with much of the same insight and humor, but with all the additions of poignancy and pathos which the passage of five years and the dealing with relations infinitely more vital than those of calf-love can afford.
In response to requests from many librarians, the reviews printed each month in this department of the magazine will be reprinted separately in pamphlet form. Copies may be had by any librarian, without charge, on application to the Atlantic Monthly, 8 Arlington St., Boston.