The High Window, Raymond Chandler, Alfred A Knopf, 1942, 265 pp
This is Chandler's next book after Farewell, My Lovely. It is good but lacking in the tension and danger in the earlier books. It is as if Chandler has become world-weary and just has a job to do as a writer. There is less biting sarcasm and Marlowe drinks less. But it is still a good mystery about a missing coin, a dark family secret and the usual tie-in between the rich and the underworld in Los Angeles.
Dragon's Teeth, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1942, 631 pp
Here is the third in the Lanny Budd series. Lanny moves on through his life. At the end of the last volume, Lanny had married an heiress named Irma. Dragon's Teeth starts with the birth of their daughter. The book is slow at first but then picks up and is good to the end. It covers the rise of Hitler and his persecution of the Jews; one of the first books I read in the 40s that addresses this subject. Lanny has been a friend of Johannes Robin, a Jew, for many years. The Robin family lives in Germany and real trouble besets them in this book. Lanny finally takes action and gets the whole family out of Germany, almost at the cost of his marriage. So the final section is full of danger, excitement and suspense. This series of books did not continue the fame Sinclair had in the 1930s for his muckraking book, although Dragon's Teeth did go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. Ultimately there will be 10 volumes and it is the best education I've ever had about American and European history in the early 20th century.
Go Down, Moses, William Faulkner, Random House, 1942, 384 pp
This is a collection of related short stories and one novella, all of which take place in Faulkner's invented county. The stories move through time and generations and most of the characters are related, one set on a line of white descendants, one black. But of course the black is mixed with white and even Indian. It is a complex web of relationships: man to woman, white to black, master to slave/free negro.
Much of the book has to do with hunting in an area of shrinking wilderness. In his inimitable way, Faulkner deals with these relationships which also include man's relation to animals and places. He is trying to make sense of a place created by God, peopled by God, but essentially destroyed by people. Somehow, I found this volume the most accessible of all the Faulkner I've read so far.
Now for the prize winners:
In This Our Life, Ellen Glasgow, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941, 467 pp
I was looking forward to this book because I had loved Barren Ground, the earlier book by this author, and this one won the Pulitzer. It turned out to be an OK story but the writing was really bland.
Asa Timberlake is a middle-aged man in a bad marriage with a low paying job and two daughters approaching their twenties. He feels trapped and emasculated because they live off handouts from his wife's rich uncle. The daughters have all kinds of trouble with men. One of them is like Asa and one is selfish like Asa's wife. Much of the book is endless, bad dialogue about it all.
Finally in the end Asa stands up for what he thinks is right and you are left with a bit of hope for him and for the one daughter. The message is that most people are either weak or greedy; that the ones who are a little stronger take care of the weak at the expense of themselves. That would perhaps be a bearable message if the writing were better.
Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray, The Viking Press, 1942, 317 pp
A very fine book. Adam is the son of Roger the Minstrel in England, 1294. During one year of his life, Adam is traveling on the road with Roger, their horse and their dog Nick, a red spaniel. They meet up with many adversities including losing the horse and Nick. An evil minstrel won the horse off of Roger, who has an unfortunate gambling habit. After riding the horse until he is lame, the evil minstrel then steals the dog.
Adam, in running down his beloved spaniel, gets separated from his father and has more adventures before they are all reunited. Adam is eleven years old and has the attributes of a boy that age but he is also brave and determined: a budding hero.
I thrilled to life on the road and the minstrel's craft, having done some touring myself as a singer/songwriter. I loved this quote, spoken by Roger the Minstrel: "A road's a kind of holy thing. That's why it is a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It's open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle."
The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, 40 pp
This is the story of a house, which is built in the country by a man who wants it to stay in the family for generations to come. The house enjoys the seasons but wonders what the city is like. Eventually the city grows and encroaches on the country until the little house is surrounded by the city, abandoned and run down.
Finally a great-granddaughter comes along, has the house moved out into the country again, restores it and lives there. The message that the country is better than the city is a nostalgic theme in the 1940s. This is the type of picture book that was read to me as a child and in my 20s I would become a hippy and live in old houses in the country.