MOVING Day,” says my friend Dick, ‟is the one day in the year when a man should never be at home. Women can do the moving so much more competently without our help.” And, he might have added, without our irritation. It is the slow cumulative shedding that wears a man down.
The preparation for our annual trek to the country begins several days before the moving van is expected to arrive, and I recognize the signal when I am told to bring home from the office as many cartons as possible — and two balls of that tough Manila twine. “Well, here we go again,” I think to myself.
We change our life each time we move, and this transition from city to country injects a new quizzical strain into the family discourse. The fur coats are sent off for summer storage with the remark: “You haven’t worn that coonskin of yours twice in the whole winter — I can’t see why we pay to keep it!” The rugs in the bedrooms are rolled and sent to the cleaner, and this brings up a disquisition on The Keeping of Dogs in the City, especially stubborn Kerry Blues. My heavy suits and my one set of long woollies, used for early fishing, excite a diatribe on Moths and Men Who Won’t Shut Closet Doors. The house is no longer as pleasant to live in, and the chance of doing any further work here is destroyed when my wife says ominously, “Mrs. Gordon is coming first thing tomorrow. If you don’t pick up your papers, she will.” I know, I know.
Ever since last October I have been happily establishing little nests of paper about the house: intimate papers in the bedroom — notes for articles, letters I want to keep, newspaper clippings. These have been accumulating on the mantel over the bedroom fireplace; and, as a warning to Mrs. Gordon not to touch, the piles have been weighted down with various heavy objects. In my workroom downstairs lies another nest: Manila folders, old notebooks, a small group of typed pages, source material for a book which my secretary has skeptically entitled “Chapter One.” And up in the library is a third nest, manuscripts not my own, which I have been editing over weekends. If Mrs. Gordon picks them up, willing, vigorous cleaner that she is, we shall have scrambled eggs to put back into their shells. So I begin to segregate.
The sight of my being tidy brings down an avalanche from another quarter. “What are you going to do about your books? I’ve told you we haven’t any more space for them here but you still keep bringing them home. I’ve seen what you do with them — now clear them out! ” This dismays me, for I thought my book-disposal plan had worked out rather quietly. The new ones I really wanted to keep I placed in the proper shelves after weeding out an equivalent number in which my interest had faded. The discards I simply piled up on the floor of the coat closet and in the attic, awaiting the day when I could give them away or take them back to the office. I hate to part with books, but it seems the day has arrived.
All this induces a kind of numbness at the base of the skull; instead of saving steps, we begin climbing up and down stairs, from the cellar to the attic, for the darnedest trifles, goaded on by little arrows. “Have you packed the liquor?” “Do you know where the dog’s summer collar is? Remember how you held us all up looking for it last year!” “Must I have your entire fishing gear with me in the car?
The movers won’t swipe it. Be sensible!” We reach the crescendo the night before Moving Day with the packing of the kitchen “Things.” For some reason, unknown to me, this must be done between midnight and 2 A.M., and it is done in the cartons winch I brought home five days earlier. When the last kitchen “Thing” is in its place and the silver has been packed, when the numbness of fatigue has reached almost paralyzing density, my mentor remarks, “If you retired and we moved to Virginia, this would never happen!” At that moment, were I anything more than a cat’spaw, I would put my toothbrush in my pocket, ease out the door, find my way to the Club, and spend the next twenty-four hours sleeping. . . .
As a stimulus for summer reading, the Atlantic will supply on request a list of fifty outstanding books for children published since 1940. The books have been selected by Virginia Haviland of the Boston Public Library, Julia Sauer of the Rochester Public Library, and Elizabeth H. Gross of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Write EDWARD WEEKS,Editor of the Atlantic, 8 Arlington Street, Boston 16, Massachusetts.
The tender green, the tender, immaculate green of the countryside. The little cottage is so still. The last carton, the steamer trunks, the final suitcase, have at last been deposited, and when I cut the Manila cord with my fishing knife, the tall bottles are produced and we sink into the welcoming arms of a Martini. Desmond, the Kerry Blue, who has zoomed through the woods, lies panting on the front steps, and I in the bamboo chair with a cigarette and a cool glass. The sea breeze drifts in through the screen. The mentor is seated on the yellow sofa, and as she catches my eye she lifts her glass and says, “To the Snookery, this foolish, heavenly little place!” Which explains so much. It is utterly still, and the stars are out when Desmond, stiff-legged, and I take our inspection of the dark. I look up at our lighted bedroom and I know that, tired as I am, at five-thirty tomorrow dawn I shall be awake, listening to the birds I haven’t heard since last migration.
Reading with zest
Louis Kronenberger, the drama critic of Time magazine, is an essayist, perceptive, witty, and urbane. His favorite period is the span 1710 to Napoleon, and it is natural that in his new book, The Republic of Letters, Essays on Various Writers (Knopf, $3.75), his best pieces and his warmest appreciations should appear in the first half and be devoted to his heroes and heroines of the eighteenth century. Mr. Kronenberger is not a critic of the passionately analytical school, and he very surely points out a fallacy of the New Criticism when, in the midst of an enthusiastic and highly entertaining tribute to Byron, he remarks that “current criticism in its obsession over what makes the clock tick . . . all too often fails to notice whether it tells the right time.”
If Mr. Kronenberger does not reveal any noticeable new vistas in a landscape which has been much trodden, he does succeed in refreshing our appetite with his very felicitous comments. Speaking of his most formidable hero, he says that Dr. Johnson was “a man who makes literature come to him rather than one who goes out to it, a man for whom art is rather a confirmation than an enlargement of experience.” And this definition serves them both. Mr. Kronenberger does very well by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; he very nearly induces me to reread Robinson Crusoe, and his enjoyment of Pope is so sane and so civilized that I am impelled to go back for another helping.
The essays in the second half, devoted to modern writers, have less warmth and a rather flickering illumination. The best of these papers are on Chekhov, Max Beerbohm, and H. L. Mencken. Speaking of Mencken he says, “In his debunking, Mencken revealed a gimlet eye for the pretentious, the counterfeit, the absurd; no one has shown up quackery with keener relish or more notable results. And for doing all this, Mencken had a brilliantly right style — vivid, daring, now and then bullying, and always a little unscrupulous.” But when it comes to Shaw, Strachey, and Virginia Woolf, the electric light bulb flickers and the words, though civil, are chill. Enjoyment of an author’s work is the source from which Mr. Kronenberger draws his most penetrating remarks, and when it only half exists his comments are shrewd and observant but without spark.
The quality of the Swiss
Paul Hyde Bonner has a good deal in common with John Galsworthy, who indeed might serve as his model, for in Mr. Bonner’s novels, and especially in his new one, Excelsior! (Scribner’s, $3.50), is that constant intuitive concern for a family of property, a family whose loyalties, jealousies, and conflicts are sensitively divulged. The story takes place in Zurich, and the family is that of Robert Eggli, an octogenarian banker with the astuteness, the privacy, and the strength of the Swiss. Robert Eggli has an iron will and a sharp temper — so much temper that the family has been warned not to cross him for fear of bringing on a heart attack. He is clear-headed and supremely in command of the banking house which has made his fortune. Towards his children, his two sons in particular, he is unsparing, and in family conferences he enjoys imposing his rule and forethought upon Walter, his eldest and apparent successor. Jacques, the younger son, has escaped to Manhattan where as a broker he has flourished on his own account. When war comes he is sent back to Zurich in the somewhat transparent disguise of the OSS, and it is this family reunion in the mountain sanctuary of Switzerland which sets the stage for the novel’s crisis.
The book is dominated by Robert Eggli, and I cannot overstate my admiration for the sagacity and firmness with which he is portrayed. He rules his children, and reserves his love for his charming French mistress, Baroness de Marty. He is a connoisseur with a magnetic romantic streak in him to which all women respond, and his philosophy of money he vividly expresses in a scolding talk with Walter: “You — both of you, and Jacques too — think of money as something personal, something to keep and hoard. . . . Well, let me tell you, it is not that. It is a trust, a public trust. It is credit and valuta, both of which are needed to protect our little country against the ravages and competition of bigger, richer states that have matières premières. We have no coal, no iron, no petroleum, no copper.
We could not exist on the sale of cheese and kirschwasser. It is on money that we survive — my money, your money, the bank’s money — invested in every part of the globe. . .
Such a patriarch would of course reduce his family to a pecking order, and peck they do at each other and in ways that are amusing and true to life. Mr. Bonner savors that which he writes about — a good meal, a fragrant woman, or a speedy drive on a dangerous road. His zest creates in others a zest for the life he is describing, and while his canvases do not have the scope of The Forsyte Saga, in his pleasure in what is excellent and his respect for quality and sacrifice, he does indeed remind me of the great Edwardian.
Commander Edward L. Beach, USN, writes with a veteran’s knowledge of the submarine. During the war, over a period of twenty-nine months, he participated in ten consecutive war patrols against Japanese forces, and on the last four patrols he was executive officer and navigator. In such rugged experience and in his intimacy with other survivors as young as himself he found the source for his first book, Submarine! a series of biographical studies of our audacious submarine commanders, of the hazards they ran, and of the courage with which they met their fate.
With such masculine material at his fingertips I suppose it was inevitable that Commander Beach should be encouraged to do a novel about our subs and their relentless hunting of the Japanese merchant fleet. Run Silent, Run Deep (Holt, $3.95) is a capacious narrative, wholesome, unquestionably authentic in its battle scenes, and yet suffering from shortcomings which make it a less invigorating story than what the author must have seen in his mind.
The story is plotted about three men: Edward G. Richardson, a graduate of Annapolis, commander of the Eel and holder of the Medal of Honor, who is the narrator; Jim Bledsoe, fresh from Yale’s NROTC; and Bungo Pete, which is the nickname for the captain of a Japanese destroyer, an opponent of formidable skill. Jim is trained under our hero and at last is given command of the old Walrus; out he goes, only to be pursued and sunk by Bungo Pete. Whereupon the Eel sets out for revenge. Ninety-five per cent of the book is devoted to submarine operations, and the skipper, who has to see what is going on, is constantly being washed off the bridge in order to have a wider view. But he keeps bobbing up, and eventually there are medals and congratulations and he is posted home to collect his lady. There is nothing subtle about this, and the characterization is so elementary that the men are almost indistinguishable. The really good writing is reserved for the infighting and the operation of the ship, and even here, in a book of this size, a good deal of repetition is inescapable.