by William Wister Haines [Atlantic & Little, Brown, $2.50]
THERE is a fine authentic note in this novel about men who string wire from one steel tower to another across the continent. It is simply the story of a young lineman, Slim, who puts his heart and soul into his job until he attains perfection in the work. And yet a lineman is no ordinary workingman: his doings take on an epic shape, his is the individualism of a pioneer, his life is so rich in rare experiences and excitements and shot through at times with such bits of glory that his job becomes a whole world; and within this world there are authentic characters created with a vigorous, sure touch, characters like bed blayd, Pop, and Stumpy, who belong emphatically to the American soil. (If course it remains from beginning to end a man’s world, as the author sees it, where the action is direct and simple and there is no necessity whatever for the delineation of delicate feeling.
But the book, when the writing is dealing with the job, has the freshness of a document, and that validity, tote Mr. Haines’s contribution is that he is able to show how the work of the linemen takes on a dignity and sometimes a bit of grandeur. Since it is in their work that they have dignity, Mr. Haines is wise enough to know that when these men are out of work it is very hard for them even to retain their self-respect. When the depression hits the work of the linemen and Slim is out of work, he is no longer a heroic character at all; he is just like any other workingman; and it is only when he has found work again that he is restored. If Mr. Haines had n’t perceived this and shown it in his book, one could have accused him justly of having a very romantic conception of the kind of men who string wire.
When the writing gets away from the work of the linemen, away from the masculine world, Mr. Haines is not so sure of himself. It is almost as though he felt that linemen knew no ot her world beyond the job, no ecstasy beyond the excitement of attaining perfection in their work; and so when he writes about women, or about Slim being in love, the authentic touch which is strong in other parts of the book is simply not there. What he is truly sensitive to is the emotions that come from comradeship among the men; his forthright style gives him power to describe the actual physical movements of the men on the job as they swing dangerously from their high steel towers, and to make their movements often intensely exciting.
In his first novel Mr. Haines shows some admirable qualities: his ear is very close to the ground, he gets a native flavor into the ways of the men, he writes vigorously, and he can give a heroic quality to a character like bed blayd and still have him remain a human being.