Ladies Day

By Chard Powers SmithSCRIBNERS
THIS is the second volume of what seems destined to be an American saga. Though readable by itself, it gains both power and clarity when referred to Artillery of Time, of which it is a sequel in the sense that Ike Lathrop, the pivotal character of the former book, plays a major part in this one. What Ike grows up to represent in Artillery of Time is American big business as it came to be just before and during the Civil War. He continues, still as a banker and industrialist in Byzantium, New York, to represent the same thing in Ladies Day; but now, in the period 1884-1900, we see him and all that he stands for being inexorably swallowed up in the new monopolistic concepts of bigness that took possession of the Rockefeller-Harriman era. These new, more ruthless, increasingly cynical concepts are vested in Race Kirkwood of Byzantium and later of New York City, who has achieved a dominant position by adding the devices of political corruption, venal journalism, and alliance with the underworld to his natural talent for sharp dealing and aggressiveness. The conflict between the older man and the younger, between the earlier code and the later, takes on dramatic intensity in its connection with a prolonged, foredoomed, never happy love affair between Kirkwood and Ike Lathrop’s only daughter, who, meanwhile, is trying to piece out a career and a life by throwing herself into the New Woman’s new interest of social service. For this is Ladies’ Day — the decade when the great problems of religion, education, and philanthropy were suddenly dumped into women’s laps by men who found themselves, for the first time in American history, so all-absorbed in finance and industry that every other consideration had come to seem infantile. The book lacks, it may be, something of its predecessor’s fusion of character with idea, something of its structural balance and finish. Like Artillery of Time, however, it contains several scenes of great and sustained power.
W. F.