Sunday, August 13, 2006


This and the next two posts will be about the other books I read from 1947, the ones that were not top 10 bestsellers. Once again, it was an interesting and in some cases, excellent group of novels and short story collections.

The Victim, Saul Bellow, Vanguard Press, 1947, 240 pp
Saul Bellow is still a few years away from his big breakthrough and this novel put me to sleep twice in the first 50 pages, but I carried on and it was good. Asa Leventhal is a Jewish man in New York City, working at a publishing firm, married and not very stable as a man. Kirby Allbee, an old acquaintance, reappears in his life, demanding redress for a perceived wrong.

The whole story happens over a few hot weeks in August and September. Leventhal's wife is out of town, his young nephew dies, somehow he keeps up his job and finally gets rid of Allbee. But it is a dark story with a theme of what does one man really owe to another with quite a bit of philosophy thrown in. There is a hint of anti-semitism.

I found the most intriguing part was that through most of the story, it was ambiguous as to who was the victim. Allbee was a loser and yet his victimhood victimized Leventhal. The writing is very good, making you feel the heat, the city, the emotions and mental turmoil of the characters, the thick oppressive weight of Allbee's reasoning and demands. It was very worthwhile reading.

Hellbox, John O'Hara, Random House Inc, 1947, 210 pp
This is O'Hara's first book and is a collection or short stories, most of which first appeared in the "New Yorker." So they are smart, modern (for the times) and give you that feeling of being a spectator on people's lives, as so many "New Yorker" stories do. Some take place in Hollywood, some in New York City and the rest in New England.

At first I like them because I had recently read a book called An Empire of Their Own, about the early days of Hollywood, so I was familiar with the era. But by the end I was bored and irritated be the fact that nothing really ever happened in the stories.

Tales of the South Pacific, James Michener, The Macmillan Company, 1947
I actually read this book back in the 90s and find in my notes that I did not have a lot to say about it. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and the Broadway hit show "South Pacific" was loosely based on this book. It is a war book about WWII in the Pacific. There are some action scenes but it is more about what it was like to be a soldier there and interact with the native populations. There is a sort of wry humor about it all.

My realization at the time that I read it was to understand why people write war books. There is such an extreme amount of concentrated living that goes on during war, as well as drama, that people have to write about it. Possibly that is also one of the reasons we have wars: to keep the boys happy and occupied with lots of action. How about race car driving or something, guys?

The Pearl, John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1947, 97 pp
Steinbeck originally wrote this as a screenplay and it was published as a novella when the movie was released. The story is based on a legend. An impoverished man in Mexico finds a huge pearl while fishing and dreams of all its sale can do for him, his wife and his son. But he immediately becomes the target of greed and after many misadventures, throws the pearl back into the ocean, poorer than when he started.

It is said that the legend was an allegory for Steinbeck's life. He had achieved fame and fortune with The Grapes of Wrath and lost his privacy, his peace of mind and his marriage. He was very disillusioned about capitalism and materialism, since it benefitted few and left most people poor.

As usual, the writing is great with that Steinbeck voice. I don't know how to describe it. It is a strange combination of the factual and a bit of sentimentalism with the patterns of the natural world woven in.

Dark Carnival, Ray Bradbury, Arkham House, 1947, 313 pp
Another first book that is a collection of short stories. I decided to read all of Bradbury for this project, as he is a major author of science fiction in my lifetime. All of these stories are in the supernatural genre, some short, some longer, and many were previously published in the pulps and other magazines.

I was fascinated. Skeletons, death, people aware of spirits, etc. The writing is a bit amaturish in places but mostly fresh and unselfconscious. I had never read any Bradbury before and was glad to have made his acquaintance.

Note: the spell-check function on blogger is currently experiencing technical difficulties. I am too lazy on a Sunday night to check the dictionary (I know, lazy spoiled American victim of technology.) I am pretty sure you can figure out what I mean in this post. Actually the only word I am not sure about is "amaturish." Please feel free to correct me in the comments if I got it wrong.

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