Sunday, March 26, 2006


The following are books which were published in 1943 but were not on the top 10 bestseller list:

The Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1943, 233 pp
This is a complex story set in England during World War II. A man, who is already sad and guilty because he performed a mercy killing on his wife, gets caught up unwittingly in a spy ring. There are many twists and turns until he is free again, but it is a limited freedom.

Greene is addressing the conflicts between personal love and love of country; the effects of war on personal lives and the destructiveness of tyranny. It is well done.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner, Doubleday and Company, Inc; 1943; 611 pp
I really liked this one. Bo Mason is an adventurer and a wild, speculator type who was born too late. All the frontiers were already opened, the booms had all peaked. He was raised by a violent father, so he left home at a young age looking for adventure and big money.

Elsa's Norwegian mother died when Elsa was young. Her father married Elsa's best friend. In disgust, she ran away to her uncle in South Dakota, where she met Bo. They married, had two boys and led a most unusual life. No stability, no respectabiltiy, and really no happiness, but Elsa stuck by Bo. After many failures in business, Bo ended up running liquor during Prohibition. By the end of the book, all of this odd family have lost their dreams and died, except the younger son. After burying the others, he takes on characteristics of each parent and decides to live on using the best of what he got from each.

It is a big, well-written book and I couldn't put it down. The main question here is what does a society do with pioneer types when the frontier is gone?

She Came to Stay, Simone deBeauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1943, 404 pp
I had planned to read Beingness and Nothingness, by Jean Paul Sartre, since it was published in 1943. In fact, I tried to read it but did not get very far. Too dry, too many words, too convoluted for me. I am just a light weight who can only learn about the world through fiction. Well, not entirely, but anyway I discovered that Simone deBeauvoir, who was Sartre's lover for decades, put his philosophy into her novels. Good. So I am reading her novels.

She Came to Stay is a very strange story about love. Sartre and deBeauvoir believed in free love and did not believe in marriage. This caused many troubles in their relationship and I am pretty sure this novel is autobiographical. There are two women and a man. Francoise and Pierre are lovers (he is a writer and she is a director of plays.) Enter Xaviere, an actress. Francoise tries to love this woman, but Xaviere is quite incapable of love. Pierre also tries to love her. Francoise is continually trying to deal with her jealousy of the other two, so there is lots of emotional turmoil and drinking in French cafes.

But the bottom line is that Xaviere is insane. She is the poison person who disrupts every attempt by Francoise and Pierre to maintain an honest and open relationship. Often trying to love someone who is insane turns love into an obsession, which is what happens here.

The ending is a surprise and I won't give it away, except to say that Francoise is only able to free herself of jealousy by lowering her moral sense. I blame it all on Xaviere.

The Wide Net, Eudora Welty, Harcourt, Brace and Company; 1943; 214 pp
When I first began this reading project, I would read both the O Henry Prize Stories and the Best American Short Stories for each year. But I don't really like reading short stories and reading those volumes became a chore, so I dropped that idea. I did, however, come across a few authors whose novels I have since read. One of those was Eudora Welty. The Wide Net is her first collection of stories and I had read the title story in the 1942 O Henry collection. It is the best short story I have ever read.

A country woman pretends to run away after her husband stays out all night. The husband and his friends look everywhere for her and even drag the river, hence the title of the story. Later in the evening she shows up and has taught her husband a lesson and made him discover how much he loves her. The construction, the characters and the emotion are all perfect. No other story in this volume tops it.

The stories are mostly about young people dealing with love and loneliness and have a dreamy quality mixed in with nature. It is that southern, mystical thing and Welty is unique even within that tradition.

Bound For Glory, Woody Guthrie; EP Dutton & Co, Inc; 1943; 320 pp
This is Woody's classic story and though I've been a folksinger since the 60s, I had never read it. I did read Joe Klein's excellent biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life, several years ago so I knew the story of his life. Woody's account is more sketchy but much better. He is a great writer and has a sense of humor that is part country wisdom and part spiritual hugeness.

I was left wondering why it is that poor people are so much more generous and accepting of others than middleclass and rich people.


  1. This post is just packed with "must read" authors. I don't know why I always assume that these books had been written much earlier than they were. Thanks for correcting my mental time line!

  2. No problem Piksea. It has been the same experience for me while doing this reading project. In fact, I am aghast at the possibility that I might have missed all these great books.