THREE-DECKER novels are springing up again, but with this difference, that the complete text today is bound up within the covers of a single volume. It is hardly fair to contend that novelists have taken their pattern from Anthony Adverse. For the fact is that the tendency to write a long rather than a short or medium-sized narrative was manifest in country after country at a time when Anthony was still a pup. Consider: The Son of Marietta, from Holland; The Last Puritan, from England; The Stars Look Down, from Scotland; Journey to the End of the Night, from France; The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, from Germany; and the novels by Sinclair Lewis, Kenneth Roberts, and T. S. Stribling within our own borders — it almost seems as if the modern novelist could not do himself justice in less than a quarter of a million words. The popularity of each of the books I have mentioned is proof enough that, despite the constant interruptions of modern life, people do not begrudge a long devotion to a book — provided that it can hold them. But the reviewer whose job it is to swallow them all had better have his eyes examined.
If I Have Four Apples, by Josephine Lawrence (Stokes, $2.50), is on the short side. A book which stems straight from the depression (five years gone already, only two more to go), this is a case history of an American family who could n’t pay their bills and who would n’t add up the consequences, The Hoes are a collection of Americans personifying, each in his own way, those economic shibboleths which are the cause of so much of our grief to-day. ‘Own your own home ’; ‘pay in installments’; ‘a white-collar job’; ‘a right to a college education’ — half truths which, when coupled with our national zest for independence, seem to have led some twelve million of our citizens into deep water.
The story of what happens to the Hoe family is much more sociology than fiction. Having sketched in her characters with terse and skillful strokes, Miss Lawrence begins to pursue them with the relentless mathematics of their own dilemma. She drums into them the reality of a family budget — a budget each of us ought to compare with our own. There was for me an algebraic fascination in trying to work out this pressing family problem. You keep biting down on the story as if it were a slightly sore tooth. Good clinical reading — which I fear will never be read by those who need it most.
A limited number of copies are still available of the Atlantic’s List of Recommended Books for the last six months of 1935. This list will not be published in the magazine, but institutions or individuals may obtain it on application.