Mary Roberts Rinehart opens Dangerous Days with a boring dinner party hosted by an American steel manufacturer and his wife.
The year is 1916.
Europe is on the verge of destruction.
Natalie and Clayton Spencer are on the edge of domestic destruction.
Clay has brought son, Graham, into his steel business at the bottom, much to Natalie’s dismay. She wants her boy to have the best even if it destroys him.
Clay wants a woman’s love but not at the price of his moral destruction.
Clay is sure America will be in the war soon.
Graham and his father realize — though they don’t say it to each other — that Graham may escape moral destruction only by volunteering to die.
Rinehart follows the bored people around the opening chapter dinner table through to Armistice Day, revealing them to be anything but boring. She masterfully combines deft characterizations, historical episodes such as the communists’ helping American draft-dodgers escape into Mexico, and intricate plots within her main plot.
There’s a certain flag-waving bravado about the novel — all the characters but Natalie do their bit in the war — but the complexity of the characters and the realness of their confusions make this page-turner a novel you won’t soon forget.
The Desert of Wheat is an unsatisfactory romantic novel by the master of westerns, Zane Grey.
The story is set in the Bend Country of eastern Oregon in 1917 after America had declared war on Germany. The Industrial Workers of the World is organizing farm and timber workers to disrupt the war effort by sabotaging America’s food production.
Kurt Dorn sides with his father’s mortgage-holder, Anderson, against the IWW, causing a breach with his father. Anderson tells Kurt how to save his wheat crop. The plan succeeds, but the IWW burns the harvested wheat before it can be sold. Kurt’s father dies attempting to save the wheat, and Kurt deeds the farm to Anderson to pay the mortgage.
Kurt insists on going into the military to fight Germans. Anderson’s daughter Lenore promises to marry Kurt when he comes home.
Grey held me spellbound with the IWW material and his description of trench warfare in France. Lenore’s letting Kurt go to war made psychological sense to me, too. But I never got the sense that the issues that gave rise to the IWW were solved, nor that Kurt’s post traumatic stress was over.
I can’t help wondering what this novel might have been if Grey had shaken off the conventions of cowboy romance.