Light in the Clearing still glows

The Light in the Clearing begins with its narrator saying, “Once upon a time I owned a watermelon.”

From that magical opening, Barton Baynes escorts readers through his Adirondacks childhood.

The Light in the Clearing: A Tale of the North County in the Time of Silas Wright
by Irving Bacheller.  Grosset & Dunlap, 1917. Illus. with scenes from the photoplay.
414 pp. 1917 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #14150. My grade: B+.

Orphaned at 4, the lad is brought up by his Aunt Deel and Uncle Peabody, a poor, hardworking brother and sister.

A bright, polite child, Bart attracts the attention of Silas Wright Jr., then New York’s comptroller, later to be a U.S. senator.

Wright helps Bart get an education and enter law practice.

By himself, Bart attracts pretty Sally Dunkelberger. The two plan to marry when both are 21.

Scene from photoplay version of The Light in The Clearing

In Light, Irving Bacheller combines the best features of the juvenile novel, historical fiction, romance, and coming of age novels—and does them all well.

The chapters in which Bart tells of his childhood convey the sense of a child’s view point, much in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoirs. As he tells of his teens, you can feel the tug between Bart’s inbred values and his acquired desires.

Bacheller weaves all-but-forgotten tidbits of history into the novel, such as the New York State’s rent wars and Silas Wright’s refusal to be nominated for vice president in 1844. None of it seems pasted on or extraneous.

Whatever your tastes in novels, you’ll find something to like in this far-from-ordinary 1917 bestseller.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Yearling Celebrates Value of Family

Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s poignant novel The Yearling hails from an era when a novel about growing up didn’t have to be about sex. Its realism, craftsmanship, and age-old truths will keep it alive when most contemporary coming-of-age novels are forgotten.

Only one of Penny and Ora Baxter’s children, Jody, lived past infancy. Jody’s12-year-old irresponsibility is a thorn in Ora’s flesh. Penny keeps Jody away from his wife’s sharp tongue, giving him leave to slip off the woods instead of doing chores.

The Baxters are almost as poor as the Florida scrub land they farm. Their corn and tobacco crops have to be supplemented by hunting game to eat and to trade for necessities. There’s not even a mouthful to spare for Jody to feed a pet, as desperately as Jody begs for something that will belong just to him.

When Penny and Jody go in search of their missing hogs, Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake. He shoots a doe and puts her warm liver over the snake punctures to draw the venom. When Penny recovers, Jody reminds his father the doe had a fawn. Penny lets Jody fetch the fawn home as a pet.

The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s devoted companion, it is nothing but a pest to his mother. When Flag becomes a yearling, its behavior is no longer just a nuisance; it threatens the family’s survival.

Rawlings’ characters are vivid and vital. Jody is unmistakably12, swinging between childishness and manliness, passionate in his likes and dislikes. Penny and Ora are a familiar couple. They fuss about trifles, unite against troubles. Penny’s charity is antidote for his wife’s sharp tongue.

Jody has to accept loneliness as part of the cost of survival, but in the process he also learns to value his family. There are worse trade-offs.

The Yearling
By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Scribner’s, 1938
428 pages
1938 bestseller #1
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni