The Needle's Eye
by Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1924. 8vo. x+413 pp. $2.00.. New York:
The Needle’s Eye, by Arthur Train, is a better book than its predecessor, His Children’s Children. It is built more compactly around the central idea; its plot moves straighter toward the climax. The problem that it presents is that of a young man who has great possessions and a sensitive conscience. It is obvious, however, that the social rather than the personal problem interests Mr. Train; that he likes better to deal with questions of labor and capital, of class and class, than with personality. Abstract forces are the real actors in the story; the chapters concerning the discontent of the Bitumen County miners and their final outbreak of violence are written not only with vigor and intensity but with an authority not felt in other parts of the book.
The character-drawing is neither very telling nor always very convincing. The hero, John Graham, a blue-eyed, agreeable, manly young man, grows in reality as the story progresses. Not so the heroine, Rhoda. Rhoda has in a superlative degree the knack of being on the spot at the vital moment. Yet neither when, as a brown, impish child, she climbs an almost unscalable precipice with a vigorous puppy in her arms, rounding a dizzy ledge in the nick of time to hearten and save the infant hero and to restore to him his reason for being, the puppy; nor when, after flitting, an aloof and hostile figure, through the scenes of the miners’ riot, she appears suddenly out of the void, with a kind lap ready for the wounded hero’s head; nor when at last, in his hour of direst need, she figuratively rounds the precipice once more, bearing another deftly retrieved treasure, the Graham family honor — at none of these moments does one quite believe in Rhoda. John’s Uncle Shiras also puts some strain upon the credulity: old Uncle Shiras, that heartless and brutal roué, who nevertheless preserves year after year, reading and rereading it, the record of the one act of which he is ashamed; who tells ‘Rabelaisian stories’ to a well-bred and circumspect young woman, entertained by him — with no good motive — at dinner; and who dies at last with the maximum of theatricality.
The part of the book that will be remembered is the action that takes place in the West Virginia mining-town, and the clear and impartial discussion of union and nonunion fields, of political freedom and ‘industrial liberty.’ The pictures of the miners’ uprising are drawn with cumulative power; the narrative is rapid and effectively simple, and the suspense is keen. Behind the stupid and futile violence one sees the age-old tissue of prejudice, of ignorance, of mutual injustice, of straight and unselfish motives undermined by crooked and self-seeking. Mr. Train offers no cure-all, but one feels that he faintly trusts the ultimate power of such honest good-will as young John Graham’s.
ETHEL WALLACE HAWKINS