The 1942 bestseller list introduced me to several novels I quickly added to my list of novels to read again—probably several times.
The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck and Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck are novels about life in occupied territory. Steinbeck sets his novel in a European town where an invading army learns that occupation is far more difficult than invasion.
Buck tells a story of Japanese-occupied China. An illiterate farmer Ling Tan and his family organize the local resistance. As they succeed in harassing the occupying enemy, Ling Tan worries about whether their facility for killing won’t ultimately destroy them.
Marguerite Steen’s The Sun Is My Undoing has a third perspective on the relationship between the conquerer and the conquered. Her whopping, great novel looks at the financial rise and personal disintegration of a British slave trader in the late 1700s.
Henry Bellamann’s King’s Row is a striking contrast to those three novels about sweeping events in history. History detours around King’s Row. All that happens in that sleepy little country town is that one man is quietly noble.
If at least one of these four novels doesn’t give you goosebumps, you should turn in your library card: your obituary will be in Friday’s paper.
Kings Row is the county seat of a mid-west town. At the turn of the 20th century, it was the sort of place that people found a good to raise their children. Author Henry Bellamann takes us behind the lace curtains for a different view.
Parris Mitchell’s parents are dead. His twice-widowed grandmother brings him up with old-world values. Older people dote on Parris. His peers respect Parris but find him odd.
The boy’s only real friends are Renee, a dull-witted girl whose father works for his grandmother, and Drake McHugh, whose deceased parents were among the town’s elite.
Parris is so innocent, it seems inevitable that he will be victimized.
Before her death, his grandmother pulls Parris out of public school and has him tutored privately to get him ready for medical school in Vienna. Before Parris sails for Vienna, his tutor kills his daughter and himself.
When he returns five years later, Parris has learned names for the Kings Row behaviors he only intuited before: homosexuality, incest, sadism.
Bellamann, a musician by training, orchestrates his novel. The story flows with the inevitability of a great symphony, enveloping readers into the story.
When you read Kings Row, you don’t just imagine it happening: You stand beside Parris and experience it.
Simon and Schuster, 1940
1942 Bestseller #9
My grade: A+