Friday, October 12, 2007


The Green Hills of Earth, Robert A Heinlein, Signet Books, 1951, 176 pp

Again we have a collection of stories which Heinlein published in various magazines in the 1940s. The stories all concern space travel and living on such locations as Space Station #1, Moon Base, Venus and Mars.

Heinlein's writing in these stories has developed. His characters are believable. His dialogue is good. The level of emotion is high and I felt what these characters were feeling. You get what it is like to be a spacer with family back on Earth, or to be a couple who have lived on Mars and try to move back to Earth.

So while it is a collection of stories, I enjoyed the book because I was drawn into a world where space travel and life on other planets is made very real.

Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner, Random House Inc, 1951, 286 pp

Faulkner always has a surprise. This novel was written as a play. Before each act is a prose section which covers the history of Jefferson, a town in Faulkner's invented Yoknapathawpha County. The play concerns Temple and Gowan Stevens, whose baby has been murdered by their nanny. Gavin Stephens, the main character from Intruder in the Dust (see Books Read From 1948), is Temple's uncle and the lawyer who defended Nancy Mamaigoe, the nanny. Nancy is a local black women with a bad history.

As the play moves on though, it turns out that Temple has an unsavory past herself and all is not as it seems. The reader gets the whole story by the end; a story which began in the 1939 novel, Sanctuary, which I have not read. Also by the end, I could see why he began with the history of Jefferson. The courthouse and the jail where Nancy awaits execution both figure in this history. The history deals with truth vs lies and the way that events and history ultimately establish truth. Nancy's and Temple's histories have an odd relationship to truth as well.

So, while this was not one of Faulkner's classic novels, it is definitely Faulkner, his themes, his way with a story. The novel was adapted for the stage and the play ran in New York City for several months in 1959. I think I would have been less lost if I had read Sanctuary so I recommend reading them in order.

The Troubled Air, Irwin Shaw, Random House Inc, 1951, 418 pp

This is a story about the "Red Scare" and its impact on people who worked in radio. Clem Archer is the producer of a radio drama that airs weekly. The actors, writers and composer of music are all, to one degree or another, his friends. One day he gets word from the radio station head to fire four of them because their names are about to appear in a right wing magazine where they will be accused of being communists. The sponsor of the program doesn't want any trouble.

Archer is one of those 1940s style heroes: he has integrity and some guts, but he also suffers from a sort of innocence. He has a high-maintenance wife who is pregnant at the age of 39 and having trouble with that. He tries to hold out against the radio station and the sponsor, making his own investigation of the accused persons and even personally confronting the sponsor.

In the end, he is betrayed by a man whom he considered his best friend. He loses big time but preserves his family. The telling of this tale is fairly melodramatic, as I imagine those radio dramas from that time to be. But Shaw does an excellent job of portraying the unthinking hysteria of the times, the effects of a lack of due process on people's lives during a witch hunt and the individual fears and prejudices of the people who participate in or aid the hunt. The Troubled Air is the first book I have come across to deal with the communist threat.

The End of the Affair, Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1951, 240 pp

This is one of Greene's dramatic novels dealing with love and infidelity, though the question of God and faith is there as well. Maurice Bendrix is a writer living in London. He recounts his affair with Sarah Miles, a married woman who lived across the common. It is one of those stories, like Penelope Lively's The Photograph, where you slowly learn the back story while the current story goes on. In fact, the two novels are similar in other ways. I wonder if Greene was an influence of Lively's.

In any case, the whole novel is a study in opposites: love/hate, atheism/faith, friend/enemy. The coin always flips and some of it is tragic but some is comic. It was not one of my favorite Graham Greene novels. He made all the characters real and flawed but I did not find one for whom I felt any sympathy. Maurice Bendrix was the least sympathetic of all.

World So Wide, Sinclair Lewis, Random House Inc, 1951, 250 pp

I had thought that The God-Seeker was Lewis' last book, but it turns out he had one more. Hayden Chart is an architect in a growing Colorado city set in the contemporary times of 1950. He is successful, somewhat unhappily married and feels unfulfilled in his life. Then his wife is killed in an automobile accident when Hayden drives off the road. Hayden himself is badly injured.

Once he recovers, he goes off to Europe to pursue a life of travel and study. The story starts out well with these big questions about identity and the meaning of life. In his usual ironic manner, Lewis makes fun of Americans living in Europe: the way they keep to themselves, their social pretensions and inability to learn the language of the countries where they live. Hayden ends up in Florence and begins his study of old European history and writing, but from that point on the book deteriorates into a rather screwy love story and loses its earlier promise.

Barbary Shore, Norman Mailer, Rinehart & Co Inc, 1951, 312 pp

One of the strangest books I have ever read. I can't say that I liked it. The Naked and the Dead, his first book, was so amazing. The only similarity here is the intensity.

Mikey Lovett is a young writer and tells the story. He seems to be an amnesia victim from WWII. He takes a room in a rooming house in New York City so he can live cheaply and write a novel. But he is drawn into a group of people in the house who are all so bizarre, quite mad and really the reader cannot tell what is going on for half of the book.

Finally you make out that there is an agent of some group (government? political?) who is trying to get something from the landlady's husband. That husband was prominent in a communist government somewhere. All very vague. The last quarter of the story is mostly composed of political, quasi-Marxist theory, expounded by the ex-communist. There are also two women and a child who are the oddest of all and it is not clear exactly how they figure in the story. Is this a book about the failure of the communist revolution? Could be.

The writing reminded me of Kobe Abe. I get that Mailer is known for a certain inconsistency in his books. I've read two so far and I see the pattern.

The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger, Little Brown & Company, 1951, 192 pp

I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. For some reason, it was a hot book in the 60s. Even my dad was into it. Maybe he was trying to understand teens. It is again amazing to me what I remembered and what I didn't. Mostly I remembered Holden Caufield's relationship with his sister Phoebe and the last section of the book when he was with her.

What I didn't remember is that he was a junior in prep school, that he'd been expelled for low grades and that the reason he was knocking around alone in New York City was that he ran away. That is so odd because I ran away from college in my sophomore year.

The vernacular way of talking that Holden has, in his first person account, seems to me probably not the way teens talked in 1951, but it sure is the way they've talked ever since. Did Salinger invent this? What is so true is the way everything that grownups say and want is boring to Holden. Anything that someone his own age does that he likes gets a "that kills me."

I also forgot the scene where his old teacher comes on to him. I could have sworn that wasn't even in the book before.

Well, he nailed it. The disturbed teen who is not with the program and doesn't fit in. Every teen feels that way at some time.

The Stars Like Dust, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1951, 169 pp

Not as good as his last, Pebble in the Sky, but not bad. It is a story about a group of planets under oppressive rule who want their freedom. The hero is a young man without social graces and with a bad temper. There is a romance and a mystery.

The mystery is the best thing about the story because you cannot tell who the bad guy actually is until the very end. Lots of action, plot twists and good outer space data about hyper-space jumps and how to find habitable planets for humans. Unfortunately it has a hokey ending.

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