Novels of Emotion

Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (Reynal and Hitchcock, $2.00); whimsy is the word for Harry Benefield. His new novel is all about a small-town harlot with a heart of gold — Carrie Snyder, halfFrench, half-Irish, ‘who plies her shameful trade’ somewhere in the deep South. Carrie suffers from a strong if thwarted maternal instinct which bowls her right over when ‘into her garden Paul strayed—a little shaver with bare feet, a fragment of a cap, laughing brown eyes and a little half-moon scar on his left cheek which made a dimple when he smiled.’ (I quote the jacket, which is in some ways even more satisfying than the book.) Carrie eventually becomes ‘the make-believe mother’ of Paul, who is conveniently orphaned, and of ‘a wild warm fierce little hellion’ called Lady, also an orphan, rescued from a train wreck by Paul. Subsequently Carrie suffers a great spiritual cleansing, gives up men, and betakes herself and her make-believe family to New York, where, with a nice taste for symbolism, she opens a cleaning and dyeing business, and in time they meet all kinds of whimsy-whamsy-folksies such as Denis Ringrose, a literary agent, and his secretary, Maggie Devlin, who is Irish, of course, because Mr. Benefield scatters the shamrocks as he goes. After many meanderings Paul marries his Lady and Carrie’s valiance is finally proved in 292 pages of oozy charm.
The book abounds with superficial profundities and sentimental generalizations such as ‘The Irish dare anything,’ or ‘The French see things as in clear sunlight, but the Irish see them in moonshine, I reckon,’ and ‘I don’t know about genius: but I do know that I’ve met everywhere along the line in business a God’s plenty of the top virtues.’
Mr. Benefield’s novel has been acclaimed by one critic as ‘the most valiantly heart-warming book of the season.’ Someone else says his work is ‘quite as irresistible as that of James M. Barrie, Morley, or Donn Byrne.’ All that’s left for me to say is — God save Ireland!
Innocent Summer,by Frances Frost (Farrar and Rinehart, $2.50), is almost a great novel. I say almost, because there are two or three flaws in the diamond which I shall mention later, but this book stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. It is years since I have been so excited and moved by a novel, and this in spite of the fact that I am a foreigner to the New England scene (being Irish born and bred — hence ray impatience with Mr. Benefield’s papiermâché shamrocks). But Innocent Summer, although, to be sure, it is laid in New England, does not belong to any country or race; it belongs to the Land of Youth, or what the Irish call ‘Fin Varra Maa’ — the Land of Heart’s Desire. It speaks of your own youth, or the skies of home, the places where you played as a child, the grown-ups you looked at through childish eyes, the beloved familiar bits of landscape, the children next door, the little road through the wood, the first sight of the sea, and the smell of a school desk. Because Miss Frost is an artist she writes with passionate understanding, in the clearest and most delicate prose, about a town which is engraved on her heart.
It is a small town and a strip of country where nothing and yet everything happens: ‘The township lay sprawled between hills that changed hour by hour beneath the moving of the light. In the early morning before the sun had lifted from the sea a hundred and fifty miles to the eastward, the hills bulked dark and solid against the first faint smolder of approaching day.’ And then the children spring to life. Sam, whose ‘hankering for knowledge was like a fever in him,’and who mowed the lawns of the better-off townsfolk in the summer to help him through school; Mart O’Brien, who was nearly ten and had long conversations with a cloth doll called Alice, and Fern Denoyier, with her wonderful dog Jerry, and the consumptive boy Donald, who ‘was sick of being sick’; and ‘Indian Johnny,’ who was simple as a child and wise as Merlin, and Paul Hagar, one of the struggling brood of a shiftless drunken lumberjack. Paul wanted to be a farmer, if all went well, but his most immediate ambition was ‘a double-breasted blue cheviot for eleven dollars and ninety-five cents.’ And there are a host of others, so intensely alive, so vividly drawn, that you feel as if you had known them intimately all your life. Actually the book covers only the months of a single summer.
Now for the flaws: the book is a little too long, and Miss Frost is inclined to overcrowd her canvas. The episode between Sam and the child Dorothy is an error of taste, a blot on an almost perfect landscape. There are so many efficient young women writing folkish novels after the manner of the case book of a childguidance clinic, Miss Frost should despise this sort of cheap pathological detail. But these things sink into insignificance beside the fact that the New England scene has been captured and lives between the pages of a lovely glowing book.