Whiff of Danger Makes The Salamander Fascinating

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Like many novels before the Great War, The Salamander attempts to explain social changes that terrified people who had grown to adulthood during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Author Owen Johnson focuses on one of the young women — Salamanders — who, like their brothers, were leaving small towns for the easy money and fun of New York City.

For the most part, Salamanders don’t work. They live by their wits and their looks.

One Salamander, Doré Baxter, called Dodo by her city friends, is bright, impulsive, ambitious, and highly principled in a scatterbrained way.

Dodo has dozens of men who dote on her, buy her meals, give her flowers or wine she can sell, but she doesn’t take money or expensive gifts: She is not that kind of girl.

Dodo plays one man against the other until she accidentally sets up a rivalry among powerful men that threatens to tear her like a kitten in among wolves.

The plot skeleton is familiar, as are some of the scenes, but Johnson’s jerky, cinema verity story-telling makes Dodo appealing even to those who find her life appalling.

I found myself holding my breath for fear of what I knew could happen to Dodo that she believed happened only to other people.

Tip: Read the novel before reading the foreword.

The Salamander
By Owen Johnson
Illustrated by Everett Shinn
Project Gutenberg EBook #36355
1914 bestseller #4
My grade: B

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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