By Love Possessed, James Gould Cozzens, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1957, 570 pp
The number one bestseller in 1957 is a somewhat awkward combination of philosophical rumination and sex in a small town. You could also call it Peyton Place from a male viewpoint.
Arthur Winner is a second generation lawyer with a second wife and two living children. Raised by his father to be upstanding, well-reasoned and unfailingly helpful, he must confront signs of the crumbling morality and shifting social boundaries of the mid 1950s. A few skeletons in his own upscale closet, which threaten to be exposed, create whatever tension exists in the story.
As in Cozzen's 1948 Pulitzer Prize winner Guard of Honor, the story covers just two days and one hour in the life of Arthur Winner and the town of Brocton, with plenty of backstory to help fill the 560 pages. In long, oddly constructed sentences, the reader is placed into Arthur's mind and heart.
I found the novel barely readable. The sections where something was actually happening were not bad but the conversations between characters were endless, the lengthy description mostly egregious and by the end, the serious questions raised by the tale had been beaten to death. The only way I can figure out the book's bestseller status is the sex, which is graphically portrayed in some of the worst sex writing I have ever read.
(By Love Possessed is understandably out of print. But should you want to read it for the bad sex writing, check your local library or used booksellers.)