Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts
This book was #6 in 1941 and #7 in 1940. See my review at BOOKS READ FROM 1940, PART TWO, January 9, 2006.
HM Pulham, Esquire; John P Marquand; Little, Brown and Company; 1941; 432 pp
Marquand won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938 for a book called The Late George Apley, so I suppose that gave him a shot at the bestseller list. This book was the #7 bestseller in 1941. HM Pulham, known as Henry, was raised in a moneyed family in Boston at the end of the 19th century. He was educated in a private prep school and at Harvard and fought in World War I. He is another typical hero of this time; conscientious, conservative, steady and honorable.
After the war, he works in New York City in an advertising firm. He has been shaken up by the war and is trying to find himself. He falls in love with Marvin Myles, a college educated career girl. They are from widely different backgrounds and Henry finds that he cannot fit his lover and his family into the same life, so he goes back to the bosom of his family and marries a girl from that circle of people.
Twenty years later, both Henry and his wife dally with the persons they loved in their youth but realize that they can't go back. I enjoyed reading the book and the author created great tension as you wondered if Henry and his wife would stay together. Ultimately it is a conservative view, though mixed with humor, and stands up for family and class values.
Mr and Mrs Cugat, Isabel Rorick, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1940, 211 pp
At #8 we have a light, entertaining, somewhat humorous novel that obviously started out as a series of short stories about the same people. The Cugats are in their late 20s and are upper-middle-class New England people. They are in love. She is a vivacious woman who can't balance a checkbook. He is a conservative banker who excuses his wife's foibles because she is so cute. Ah, if life were still that simple; as if it ever were.
Saratoga Trunk, Edna Ferber; Doubleday, Doran & Company; 1941; 352 pp
Edna Ferber comes in with the #9 bestseller in 1941. I found it to be a silly piece of historical fiction. Clio is the orphan of a Creole courtesan from New Orleans. (As we will see, New Orleans was a hot location for bestsellers in the 1940s.) Clio is a manic-depressive female who hooks up with Clint, a Texas cowboy. They go to Saratoga, NY, home of the racetrack, with the understanding that Clio is looking for a millionaire to marry and Clint is planning to become a big man in horse racing. Naturally they end up getting married and Clint becomes a millionaire in railroads.
The women in this novel are portrayed as conniving, bitchy husband hunters and the men are all uncouth, greed-driven people. Clio and Clint come out winners, but in his old age Clint becomes disillusioned about how he has lived and about the state of business, so he tries to do some good with his money. It is a tired old story though part of the American way.
I am not a big fan of Ferber's writing; it seems forced and artificial to me. She was the Danielle Steele of her generation in my opinion. I have read two of her later books as well and this was my least favorite.
Windswept; Mary Ellen Chase, MacMillan Company, 1941
I read this book back in 1995, before I knew anything about bestsellers in the 1940s. I picked it up at a used bookstore for almost nothing, since the store was going out of business. I totally loved it and here it is at #10 on the list. It is easily one of my favorite books of the year.
Windswept starts out so slowly and dreamily that I was worried, but it grows into a beautiful story. The central character is John Marston. When he is just fourteen, his father buys a piece of property on the coast of Maine, where he plans to build a summer home, but then is killed in a hunting accident. One of John's best friends had fired the shot.
John is now orphaned but inherits the land, which his father had named Windswept. It is the end of the 19th century and John is more strong, steadfast and sensible than you would expect for a boy of fourteen. He decides to go ahead and have the house built in Maine, over much opposition from older folks including family members.
Windswept becomes the Marston family home and many and varied are the characters who make up the Marston clan along with their associates. Their lives are real, rich and honorable. A friend of mine who is a great reader was born and raised in Maine. This is one of her favorite books and she is like a character from the novel. I highly recommend it as an example of what is good and right about Americans.