Not in Our Stars
THERE has been a great deal of literary wall-wailing during the war years on the theme that nobody in the armed forces seemed to take time off from shooting to produce any written words which did not stem entirely from the shooting itself. Now the Macmillan Award for the best novel by a member of the armed forces goes to a book about an American dairy farm. So the argument is nicely closed, and Sergeant Josiah E. Greene emerges as a serious and talented novelist.
Weyland Meadows Dairy is a big Eastern farm, producing some milk, buying some, pasteurizing, bottling, making butter and cheese and ice cream, delivering and conniving and striving — a taut, tight world within a world. Forty or fifty people live on the farm. Most of them don’t like it. The people — from the barn boys through the gossiping wives up to the office managers — are so many pieces of colored glass in a kaleidoscope, forever moving and jockeying to form new patterns, forever enclosed in the pasteboard circle.
The author has built all these personalities, and their physical background, in infinite detail. He is prodigal of plot and of people. There is enough of both in this one book to serve a more cautious novelist for six volumes. But, curiously, no one character emerges entirely in the round, though the book is a very long one. Perhaps it is too long. Perhaps some cutting would have revealed the bones more sharply. And I wish that Mr. Greene had it in him to smile now and again.
But the world he has made is real, with the sure reality of complete familiarity. It is inescapably living and believable. The reader is absorbed into a community built around a specialized industry, and it is an experience he does not forget. Mr. Greene knows what he is up to. This is not a “ promising" novel by a young soldier. It is a skillful book by an acute observer of a part of American life which no one has explored before.
FRANcEs WOOD WARD