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 U[tterly] P[reposterous] Trail

The U.P. Trail is a romantic tale of the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific. Zane Grey weaves all the traditional western cliches into his boy-meets-girl story.

Beautiful Allie Lee, headed east to a father she never knew, is the sole survivor of an Indian massacre . Handsome UP surveyor Warren Neale finds her. When she recovers from the trauma, they fall in love.

Henchmen of her  late mother’s gambler boyfriend, Durade, kidnap Allie.

Sioux capure her from the henchmen.

Allie escapes.

Meanwhile, Neale has lost his job after losing his temper with profiteer Allison Lee. Neale and his cowboy pard, Red, are degenerating in Benton, a temporary railroad town.

Allie and Neale are reunited.

Neale get his job back.

Durade gets Allie again.

She escapes.

They are reunited.

Allison Lee turns out to be  Allie’s father. He takes her east, decides he can’t stand her.

She escapes.

Allie and Neale are reunited.

I’ve may have left out a few “she escapes, they are reunited” bits, but you get the idea.

Grey has a keen eye for detail and I-was-there understanding of what happened, but the hackneyed plot and cardboard characters — the bad guys actually wear black hats — make this novel enjoyable only by the most enthusiastic Zane Grey fan.

The U.P. Trail
by Zane Grey
Grosset & Dunlap, 1918
409 pages
1918 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #4684
My grade: C-
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni