Fiction Here and Abroad
ENGLISH and American novels—here are two of each to show in detail the patterns and people of contemporary society.
NEW YORK in a nutshell might have been the formula on which LOUIS Bromfield bases his 24 Hour a (Stokes, $2.50). It is as brisk, as exhilarating, as cleverly compounded of balanced diversities as that peculiarly American institution, the cocktail. Seven people meet at dinner on Sutton Place and four of those seven at tea the next day on Murray Hill. Through the interval, in interlocked circles which touch these lives, there have been murder and birth and marriage, the patching of old wounds and scandals and the making of new. Wealth and squalor have brushed elbows; gunman and nightclub singer have crossed the path of patricians; a new reigning house of wealth and power has been founded as the older pillars of society watched their foundations crumbling about them. This novel, I understand, was on its way to the movie screen before the ink had fairly dried on the printed page. It has the assurance of movement and change, the crisp finality of gambling chances lost or won, that seem especially satisfying to the American temper. While the game is on, it has all the excitement of going somewhere and getting somew here; only when it is over does a sober afterthought query, ‘ Where do they go from here?' But undoubtedly afterthoughts and aftertastes are not the qualities that one prizes in a cocktail
Equally American in its setting but very different in its tempo is Booth Tarkington’s Maine story, Mirthful Haven (Doubleday, Doran, $2.00). Here, too, there is no lack of swift and colorful action, but the drama is the almost imperceptibly slow erosion of city ways upon the granite of old New England pride and self-reliance. For two or three months in the year the cove echoes with the honk of insolent rich motor cars, the laughter of youngsters on holiday, the admiration of the city people at its scenery and their uncomprehending astonishment at the ‘ natives.’ The real Mirthful Haven cares little to be admired, still less to be improved. As the winter shutters go up on the cottages, the town draws a long breath and resumes t he life that went under cover the preceding June. Within this conflict of rooted stability and change runs the love story of Edna Pelter, outcast of the village yet of its blood, and Gordon Corning, a son of the summer people. In the final struggle between Mirthful Haven and the outlanders, each side stands loyal to its own.
Perhaps because he knows the Maine coast, so tellingly, Tarkington has endowed this book with a robust theme and a characterization headier than any we have had from him since Alice Adams.
To turn from these two stories of American life to two which deal with British contemporaries is to enter a spiritual climate as different as the sharp clarity of the eastern American coast is different from the soft mellowness of southern England. Like the earlier work of Francis Brett Young, The Redlakes (Harpers, $3.00) is rather grandiloquently a romantic tale — in this instance the story of a little boy who passed unscathed through misfortunes in childhood, the villainies of scheming relatives, the lure of beauty and riches, to inlierit finally the fortunes of a distant branch of the house and marry the suitable playmate of his youth. In an interlude in which he tells the story of Jim Redlake in Africa during the war, Mr. Young escapes the romantic halo and writes vigorously of a hard reality. For the rest, this is the soothing kind of romance in which the brave and the good win here and now and live happy ever afterward, the evil are punished, and the world runs on smoothly in a moral orbit. There is, it would seem to be assumed, a continuing social pattern of class, family, hereditary fortune, into which the successful are supposed to ‘settle down,’ quite different from the American kaleidoscope where there is assumption of change and novelty.
Though Anne Douglas Sedgwick is natively American, her sympathies and interests run more deeply with the older civilizations among which her lot has been cast. Her new story, Philippa (Houghton Mifflin, $2.50), is laid in England. In many ways Philippa is an English analogue of Alix of The Little french Girl, a modern child feeling her way through the conflicts of feeling and emotion that arise in disrupted family life.
Aldous Wyntringham leaves his wife and his adored young daughter for a middle-aged romance that ends in the disruption of his ties to all three women. A situation which might have been devastating to the child is saved by her own wise ruthlessness. Miss Sedgwick tells the story with the subtle discrimination and nicety which her readers will anticipate, but not, I think, with the same warmth of sympathy that she put into the conflicts of the more realistically-minded Madame Vervier and Alix. It seems hard for her to be wholly patient with the misty emotions of this man who for the moment counted his world well lost to satisfy a simple passion.