Cranberry Red

by E. Garside
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50]
WHILE Mr. E. Garside’s more than promising first novel, Cranberry Red, is New England in locale, it is American melting pot in essence. The scene of the story is laid in and around the little Cape Cod village of Pawtuxett during the off-tourist season when the community’s only major source of income is derived from cranberries. The novel is written with a lyric feeling for the locality (the author is himself a Cape Codder) and reveals sound and sharp observation of character as well as reflection on social problems. For Cranberry Red is a characterization of the social composition of an American community. The nature and rôle of the community’s industry are described through characters representative of the various class and racial groups from the old New Englanders and swamp Yankees to the Portygees from Cape Verde who furnish a cheap and adequate source of labor supply.
The chief protagonist is a declassed intellectual, a college graduate of the depression era named Keith Bain. Bain was born in a near-by village, but he has traveled much in present-day America in search of work. His self-confidence has been ruptured, and, his nerve shaken, he has returned to this locality to find work. The characterization of Bain is a concrete presentation of what the German sociologist, Georg Simmel, has aptly called ‘the sociology of the stranger.’ Bain belongs to none of the social and class groups in this community: racially he is with the employing class, but his occupation throws him with the Boston Irishman Danny, who is working for a stake, the Italians, and the Portygees, he comes in contact with the differing class and racial sections of this community, but he is part of neither. He is reflective and intelligent by nature, and owing to his being declassed, he is not sure of himself or of the goals in life which he would pursue.
His own personal problem is brought to a focus through his meeting with an aspiring young writer, Anne, who has come to Pawtuxett in the off season to work. Love brings a ripening of purpose, and a return of a semblance of confidence: but at the end of the story Bain goes off, still a stranger, still a declassed intellectual.
Mr. Garside has woven the personal story of Bain into his description of the community, and managed to use it as a focal point in the reflection of the American melting pot. Running alongside of Bain’s story is the story of Symmes. Symmes is a hard-bitten swamp Yankee who drives himself as hard as the Portygees whom he ruthlessly exploits. He has contempt for his deceitful and weak son, and for his wife, who dotes on the boy. He has no real life except in work and in occasional hunting and fishing. The bonds which hold him to other members of his class, such as the town banker, are purely economic. He dominates the novel as he does the community and stands at the top of a pyramid of living, sweating, injustice, racial antagonism, money-making, and disappointments which are characteristic, not only of Pawtuxett, Cape Cod, but of hundreds of American communities.
Cranberry Red is a sharply observed and honestly felt novel of contemporary American life: it is well written, and, in many passages, truly moving.
JAMES T. FARRELL