IN the pattern of a fugue Mr. Halper takes the average employees and the below-stairs underlings of a department store and puts them through an intricate dance of life, showing them at work, following them to their homes, tracking them down through certain specimen days, and exhibiting them at the end in the mass, in the opening of the new store and the party in honor of the Applegates’ new baby. Oscar the hat steamer and presser and Al the elevator boy, the elderly Romeo Major Twirlinger and the polished but debased Mr. Chetwood, and the ingenuous Helen of the millinery department provide what story there is.
In the handling of humble types one is certain to be reminded of Dickens, but a Dickens thoroughly up-to-date, without caricature, sentimentality, or satire, and one who really tells everything about his characters. It is in knowledge of the poor — their ability to find happiness, often in devious ways, their eternal hopefulness, their faults of ignorance rather than of intention, and their consuming interest in one another — that Mr. Halper most resembles his great predecessor.
As for the author’s ability to present people in the mass, the account of the opening of the new store and the Applegate party is alone sufficient to illustrate this. Altogether it is a novel of broad and rich humanity, finely balanced between the interpretations furnished by heart and head.
R. M. G.