The final section of books I read for 1946 all have in common contemporary stories about social life in America and one in England, although it is a bit of a stretch putting Alice in Wonderland in this category. I had to put it somewhere.
Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1946, 326 pp
The Fairchilds are a big, sprawling, cotton plantation family in the Mississippi Delta. The second oldest daughter, Dabney, is about to be married to the overseer. This is known as marrying beneath oneself.
The whole book is about the days before, the day of and the few days after the wedding. Really it is about the family and its many relations and relationships and about life in the Delta in the 1920s. Perhaps because I had read all those other books about that region, this one made so much sense to me. It is the best of them all because the writing is literary instead of bestseller. There is quite a lot of description but it does what description is supposed to do. It puts you there. Wonderful.
East River, Sholem Asch, G P Putnam's Sons, 1946, 438 pp
After having read The Nazarene and The Apostle by this author, which were huge slogging books about ancient times, this book was a pleasant surprise. It was a much easier read and set in the 20th century. Although it is about Jews, East River takes place in New York City in the early 1900s in a neighborhood of immigrants.
It deals with interactions between Jews and Catholics, the garment industry, unions, socialism, labor vs management, and rising out of poverty. The big fire that occurred in a garment factory at that time is part of the story. (That incident is the subject of a current book which I believe is called The Triangle.) Once again, I learned much about the development of this country, about the Jewish faith and social life, even about how animals must be slaughtered to keep Kosher.
The Street, Ann Petry, Houghton Mifflin, 1946
Ann Petry was the first African American writer to publish a bestselling novel. The Street sold more than a million copies. It is the story of a young black woman in 1940s Harlem. She disagrees and dares to struggle against racism and suppression. The ending is horribly tragic.
Petry had a fine understanding of the results of racism on both men and women. The writing is excellent. You feel that you really know the characters. The purpose of the author seemed to be to raise understanding about this wretched and disgusting aspect of American life. She accomplished it brilliantly. I was completely moved by this novel.
Amerika, Franz Kafka, New Directions, 1946, 298 pp
I'd always heard about Kafka, mainly because his short story "Metamorphosis" is rarely left unmentioned in any writing about short story craft. Kafka, I have now learned, was never published during his lifetime. He died around 1925, so this book was written before that. He did not consider himself a writer and only wrote for his own pleasure or amusement, although he is never described as someone who often enjoyed pleasure or amusement.
Amerika was a disturbing book to me. I think it was meant to be disturbing and ironic. Karl Rossman, whose story this is, was sent from Europe to America by his parents at the age of 16, as a sort of exile for bad behavior. I found him to be a most annoying character. He is sure of himself in one way and extremely indecisive in another. Because of this, every opportunity that comes his way he manages to turn to his worst advantage.
The book awakens all of one's fears that after all, one's life could just turn out to be shit.
Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1946, 307 pp
Anyone who grew up when I did had the Golden Book version of Alice in Wonderland and saw the Disney movie many times but who ever read the actual Lewis Carroll books? Well, I finally did. I found them fairly entertaining but really hard to follow. I think you had to be English to get a lot of the humor and satire, which is the point. Again, it is a case of a writer writing for children but getting in his irony for the adult who will read the book to a child. I liked Through The Looking Glass better.