Sun and Moon

by Vincent H. Gowen. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1927. 12mo. xii+340 pp. $2.50. (An Atlantic Monthly Press Publication.)
ARRESTING situations in fiction as in life are bound to be provocative of comparison. The plot of Mr. Vincent Gowen’s Sun and Moon rises from and is motivated by a combination of circumstances as interesting, even intriguing, as can be imagined. Timothy Herrick, an Englishman, saddened by the death of his English wife, has embraced Chinese customs together with no less than four Chinese women; and with his concubines, his English son and daughter, Edward and Nancy, whose tragedy the story relates, and some half-dozen children of mixed blood, he has established his strange Peking household. But preceded as the book has been by Miss Kennedy’s Constant Nymph, and contemporaneous as it is with Miss de la Roche’s Jalna, both novels presenting groups strongly analogous to that of Sun and Moon, it must run the gauntlet of comparison, a gauntlet well manned by the admirers of those ‘nymphs and shepherds’ of Sanger’s Circus in the Karindethal and of those ugly yet captivating Whiteoaks who sulk and gorge and quarrel in the drawing-room of Jalna.
These two novels are irresistibly recalled, since all three stories present family groups living under conditions far from normal and dominated in every case by highly individualized members. And yet, in spite of similarities in material and even in method of treatment, Mr. Gowen’s bestdrawn characters, Timothy Herrick, and Kueilien, his latest and favorite concubine, are frail and pallid when placed between Sanger and Teresa on the one hand and any two Whiteoaks picked at random from the squabbling lot. The reason is too apparent to be hard to find. Mr. Gowen, like many a writer far older in experience, lays his scene with such minute carefulness that be retards his action, hovers so closely over his characters that they never quite shake him off and strike out for themselves, is too prone to solicit our sympathy, which should be inevitable. Throughout the book one is conscious of this jealous and parental care, which results in the impression as one lays it down that a most interesting recital of events, portentous and tragic, has been heard rather than that a drama has been enacted.
And yet Mr. Gowen’s story must be commended for its skillful interweaving of Chinese lore and Chinese customs, which in themselves alone lend no small value to the book, for the interest which it ensures and satisfies, for its good writing, and, most of all. for the occasional delicate and exquisite descriptions, which in the scenes laid among the Western Hills of China add grace and beauty to the narrative.
The books selected for review in the Atlantic are chosen from lists furnished through the courteous cooperation of such trained judges as the following: American Library Association Booklist, Wisconsin Free Library Commission, and the public-library staffs of Boston, Springfield (Massachusetts), Newark, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the Pratt Institute Free Library of Brooklyn. The following books have received definite commendation from members of the Board: —