Monday, September 18, 2006


The City Boy, Herman Wouk, Little Brown & Company, 1948, 317 pp
This is Wouk's first novel, written while he was serving with the United States Navy in the Pacific during WWII. Herbie Bookbinder is eleven and lives in Brooklyn. His parents are Jewish immigrants and it is 1918. Herbie is fat, intelligent and romantic, therefore mildly unhappy. He always has a hopeless love for some girl. The novel covers his adventures during one spring and summer, including a trip to summer camp.

Like most other books by Herman Wouk, it starts out slowly and put me to sleep a couple times. It picked up in the middle and the humor is what kept me going. I am glad Wouk became a better writer.

The Living Is Easy, Dorothy West, Houghton Mifflin, 1948, 347 pp
Pretty good story. Cleo is the oldest daughter of a sharecropping Black family, who is sent to Boston by her mother when she is a teenager. She works in service to a white spinster and then marries an older Black man who has made himself fairly wealthy as a fruit distributor.

But Cleo has no use for men except as a source of money. She misses her mother (who has now died) and her three sisters, each of whom is married with one child. Cleo schemes, lies and finagles until she has gotten her husband to rent a big house in Brookline, where the upperclass Blacks live. She then brings her sisters and their children to live with her. She is the ultimate bossy oldest sister and actually ruins all her sisters' marriages. In the end, her husband's business fails and he leaves for New York City to try again.

Lots of info on how the moneyed Blacks fit into society, Black and white. Even if a Black is light-skinned enough to pass as white, race is still a big issue. This still goes on today, as in The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L Carter. Dorothy West was a contemporary of Zora Neale Hurston and a forerunner of today's African American female writers.

One Clear Call, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1948, 626 pp
Another volume in the Lanny Budd series, which goes up through the liberation of Paris from the Germans in WWII and the re-election of FDR at the end of 1944. As usual, Lanny is all over the place. Even Laurel, his current wife, gets to travel and be a reporter on the war, though they don't spend much time together.

I learned in this book and the last, Presidential Mission, how the United States gets a country to be one of its allies: by putting into power whoever in that country views the US as their best bet, which is usually the money guys, not the resistance, socialists or freedom fighters. No wonder wars don't get us anywhere. The same guys keep running things.

I also learned how the Cold War was germinated. Near the end of World War II, these money and industrial folks still hate and are afraid of communism. Therefore, once Hitler was eliminated, communism became the next enemy. I wonder what we will do for fun and news once we "eliminate" terrorism.

Seraph on the Suwanee, Zora Neale Hurston, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948, 322 pp
Fantastic writing and a wonderful story from an author who has become one of my favorites. This was her last novel. Arvay is a young Cracker girl in the early 20th century, born and raised in a small Florida town on the Suwanee River. She has lost her first love to her sister and in heartbreak, has sworn off men to become a missionary.

Along comes Jim Meserve, descended from plantation owners but scrabbling like everyone else in the South after Reconstruction. He is a big confident schemer and doer, he courts and marries Arvay and moves her to the central Florida citrus groves and a town called Citrabelle.
Arvay has children, raises them and cares for them, but after 20 years and all the riches Jim procures for her, she is still an insecure Cracker girl at heart. Finally she comes through and grows into a confident woman.

Hurston tells this story of a woman's flowering by bringing to life all the color and ways of these Florida people. It was an unputdownable book. I was entranced by the style on which I could just float along, hardly aware that I was reading.

Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner, Random House Inc, 1948, 247 pp
I made it through another Faulkner. He is really hard to read, hard to follow and he doesn't even bother with commas. Still there are not too many authors who can evoke quite the emotional pitch that he does.

The story is about how a lynching gets averted because a 12 year old white boy, his 12 year old Negro friend and a woman in her 70s, are brave enough to find the evidence which proves that Lucas Beauchamp, a black man, did not murder a white man. The message is that if you want something done in the name of truth, give the job to children and women. Men are too caught up in playing out their roles and fixed ideas. I liked that message and think that it is probably correct.

I didn't dislike the book. A little Faulkner goes a long way with me, but this one was not as dark as others I've read. It actually tells a good story and has some humor.


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