County Seat, like earlier novels by Mr. Corey, is as exact a counterpart as fiction can be of what the motion-picture world calls a ‘documentary.’ Its purpose is to acquaint you with the representative facts of a slice of life, and to do it by the technique of strict realistic presentation for the sake of what the facts say, without any attempt to adorn, mitigate, interpret, edit, generalize, or influence. This purpose is naturally impossible to attain to the letter. There remains always the fact that an author has to select; his pages, at their most selfless, are steeped in his peculiar sense of what is worth presenting, his personal emphasis by proportion. But that is not to say that the purpose cannot be thus, or that its being thus will not decisively color his work and govern its effect.
Mr. Corey has undertaken to depict the social, official, and domestic life of Elm, Moss County, Iowa, in the years 1924-1930, patently asking to be judged by no criterion except whether he has made the place real and its reality interesting. Real it is; interesting it is, too — even uncommonly exciting; and the only protest against his choice of the facts to present will be from the squeamish reader who is bound to wish he would not bear down quite so uncompromisingly on the kind of fact known as ‘raw’ (e.g., the details of an illegal operation performed by a novice). The elements of self-forgetfulness and egoism, foresight and folly, tenderness and brutality, are mixed in these chapters in the familiar proportions of average life. This is true of Elm as a community, with its town and county officers, its lawyers and contractors, its truck drivers and bootleggers, its leading citizens and ne’er-do-wells, its college lads and high-school girls and farmers; it is true of the family of the widow Maltz and her grown-up children, who are used as the foci ot everything; and it is true of the individual characters, every one of whom, within himself, is a battleground of just such contending attributes as make up the life of every family, of all communities.