by Booth Tarkington. Garden City: Doubleday, Page and Co. 1923. 12mo. vi+493 pp. $2.00.
MR. TARKINGTON never writes a dull story, but in The Midlander he has produced one that is neither convincing nor significant. The background is a rapidly growing Middle-Western city; the theme is the effect wrought on a native son’s character and fortunes by his speculation in outlying real-estate. Background and theme are interesting; the background is vividly presented, but the theme is treated in a less satisfactory manner. Dan Oliphant, after graduating from Yale, uses a legacy of $25,000 in an unpromising land-speculation, borrows as much more money as he can raise in order to retain and improve his real estate, marries a New York girl of certain social standing although he has not a penny of income, brings her to his Mid-Western city and installs her in the home of his parents, where she is wretchedly unhappy and where his completely dependent position troubles him not at all. His brother and his grandmother view with intelligible disapproval his expenditure of time and money on unproductive land; but throughout his speculative tribulations his father and mother bestow on him their affectionate petting and sympathetic condolence and treat him like a spoiled child. The timely death of the aged grandmother, who leaves him thirty-five hundred dollars when foreclosure is imminent, enables him to retain possession of his property; finally, the growth of the city gives it value, and with augmented resources Dan engages in building, manufacturing, and transportation enterprises on a large scale, is elected mayor, and after a period of dizzy greatness becomes ‘overextended ‘ and crashes to a fall. His prudent brother, who has looked askance at Dan’s ambitions and achievements, sacrifices a large part of his own fortune and thus saves him from dying a bankrupt. But die he does, in the knowledge that his wife has at last, after years of unwilling endurance, deserted him and taken their boy away with her. There is a minor love-story, a middle-aged romance, which supplies a mild note of cheerfulness at the close.
It sometimes happens that an author fails to appreciate the implications of the actions and speeches of his characters. Mr. Tarkington must be charged with just that failure in perceptiveness. In trying to present an engaging, hearty, whole-souled, and resolute hero, he has actually drawn a willing sponger, a fearsome bore, a noisy booster, a Babbitt of inferior mentality. Mr. Sinclair Lewis was not so indiscreet as to make Babbitt—shall we say a graduate of Princeton?
There are some good scenes in The Midlander, but unlike many of Mr. Tarkington’s other stories the novel leaves the reader in a mood to dwell on its numerous unrealities rather than on its infrequent verities — in a mood of antipathy rather than of sympathy.