To ‘one who has been long in city pent’ the coming of Spring means a get-away. Whether it be the nearest golf course, or the gardens along the James River, or the trout in the Upper Branch, in one guise or another the country calls and man must answer. A few fortunates will take ship to a wider horizon and I had them in mind, if not a ragged reviewer, as I paged through a fat and Wanderlust volume. The South and East African Year Book and Guide, 1933. It is the dark continents invitation to a holiday and compiles a romantic history, professional advice for hunters and fishers, maps for motorists, the comforts of ships and hotels for the connoisseurs, and, for the curious, ten thousand facts about Africa which they could never have found elsewhere.
Facts, antiquarian facts, what men used, what women wore — it is with such source material that our historical writers build up the background of their stories. When Merle Colby broke into the ranks of American novelists two years ago, the research, the accumulation of picaresque detail, which formed the scenes of his first book, All Ye People, were repeatedly acclaimed. Such a method has its danger, of course, for there is always the chance that the straining for effect may seriously weaken the natural unity of the narrative. Such. I am afraid, is the case with Mr. Colby’s second novel, New Road (Viking, $2.50), which for all its clever description never comes to close grips with reality. The squatters’ fight ends in a farcical rescue; Madame Perkin’s tea party is staged from beginning to end: even Livio’s murder loses its tragedy in a fantastic court scene. Life doesn’t happen that way, now or in the 1800’s.
The best observer of life in the English countryside to-day, and by best I mean the most truthful, the most sensitive, is beyond doubt Henry Williamson. It is a constant pity that he is not better read on this side of the water. There is nothing sensational about his books; theirs is a quiet, penetrating observation, unlocking the secret of life on the moors, the homely wisdom of the thatched cottages, in prose that is sturdy and beautiful. Williamsons latest volume, As the Sun Shines (Dutton, $2.95), is half dedicated to his neighbors, the farmers of Ham village, half dedicated to the foxes, the ravens, the otters, of whose life he is as intimately informed.
One may pass from the Devon of Mr. Williamson’s short stories to the Suffolk of H. W. Freeman’s novels without loss of appetite or credulity. These two writers have learned their lesson from Hardy, and when they engage their rustics in talk and doings, their pages have the delightful ring of fidelity. Be it added, however, that neither man is readily capable of building up a plot. Mr. Freeman’s latest novel, Pond Hall’s Progress (Holt, $2.06), continues the story begun in Fathers of Their People. Dick Brundish comes back from the War eager for the sheepfolds and the farm of his fathers, but encumbered by an Italian wife whom he has acquired under the bush, and who is to prove the chief cause of his deterioration. Teresa’s undoings are so superficial that they detract from the pathos of Dick s ruin. The defeat of the rustic Abner is what one most remembers.
Down East a new writer has come to light. In her first novel, As the Earth Turns (Macmillan, $2.50), Mrs. Gladys Hasty Carroll has related a story within the four seasons of the year. Within this span we come to know and to sympathize with the members of a robust Maine family. No great events, no mysteries, shake them from their traditional way of living. Here are the everyday happenings, the persistent striving of ambitions, the holidays with their relaxation, the love-making, and the sterner realities of birth and death, which affect every large, growing family. Jen, the daughter-of-all-work, with her irrepressible spirit; Mark, the worn patrician; Ed. the eldest; Olly, the young student ; and Stan, the Polish neighbor whom they finally take in — these are the figures who dominate this living book. The episodes are common to any New England community. The food which you read about is good enough to make you hungry. As the Earth Turns is a homely story whose strength lies in its people, whose humor is Yankee to the core, and whose feeling is like a deep spring which only occasionally bubbles to the surface.