Roper’s Row Is Clear-Eyed Romance

Roper’s Row is an engaging romance about a brilliant doctor who finds love on his doorstep and tries to step around it.

Christopher Hazzard works his way through medical school, hoping to do medical research. Socially, Kit finds medical school as unfriendly as grammar school. He is mocked for his lame foot and hated for his brilliant mind.

A romantic young woman rooming in the same house with Kit takes an interest in him. Ruth Avery is hard working, clean living. Kit hardly notices her until she get sick.

Ruth attempts suicide when vicious rumors of an illicit relationship kill Kit’s chance of a hospital appointment. Kit responds by marrying her: She’s a really good housekeeper.

Secure in the marriage, Ruth flourishes. She scrimps and saves, looking for a way to provide Kit with enough income to allow him to do research. She mothers Kit until a crisis makes him realize she’s not his mother.

Warwick Deeping freshens the humdrum plot by letting Kit and Ruth mature without transforming them into ways that deny their roots. Kit and Ruth come to love and respect each other, but Kit remains for the most part an emotional isolate. With his background, anything else is impossible.

Roper’s  Row
By Warwick Deeping
Alfred A. Knopf, 1929
365 pages
1929 bestseller # 5
My Grade: B+

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dodsworth: Two Themes in One Cover

Dodsworth is the story an American businessman’s midlife crisis.

Sam Dodsworth built a successful automobile manufacturing business while his wife ran the house and their social life. When the company is bought out in the late ’20s, Fran suggests they go off to Europe to have some fun.

They are hardly on the boat before Sam realizes Fran is a social-climbing snob. Fun to her is infidelty to Sam.

Gradually Sam realizes Fran’s not as intelligent, sophisticated, or cultured as he thought either. It comes as a shock to him when he realizes, “She’s my child.”

Sinclair Lewis devotes half his attention to the Dodsworths’ marriage and the other half to exploring the differences between American and European cultures. He makes both threads interesting, but he doesn’t make them mesh.

The failure of the Dodworth marriage has nothing to do with Sam’s patriotism or Fran’s Europhilia. Besides that, Lewis makes Sam out to be ignorant — a pose that’s at odds with his Yale University education and business success.

Sam’s problem isn’t ignorance but infatuation.

Lewis develops both his themes well enough to hold your attention, but not well enough to make you really care about either the culture wars or Sam’s broken heart.

By Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt, Brace, 1929
1929 #2 bestseller
377 pages
My grade: B+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Father of the Bride Is a Dull Old Duffer

By today’s standards, Edward Streeter’s The Father of the Bride is a quaint novel rather than a funny one.

The story is simple and predictable.  When Stanley Banks’  first born daughter decides to marry Buckley Dunstan, Mr. Banks’ comfortable, predictable life is turned on its head. Everything is more trouble and more expense than he could have imagined.

Eventually, the couple weds, the reception ends, and the Mr. Banks is left to pay the bills.

Ho hum.

In 1949, Streeter’s book probably seemed very trendy. The wedding industry was in its infancy. People were just catching on to the idea of middle class folks sinking a fortune into a wedding bash. Live-in arrangements had not yet become routine.

But the days when a champagne reception could be hosted for $3.72 per person are long gone.

So is this novel’s appeal.

None of the characters emerges as a real person. Gluyas Williams drawings underscore the flatness of the characters.  They are just props to hang a thesis on.

The only thing that still rings true is that nobody cares about a wedding except the principals.

When Streeter requests the honor of your reading his novel, send your regrets.

Father of the Bride
By Edward Streeter
Illustrated by Gluyas Williams
Simon and Schuster 1948
244 pages
Bestseller # 10 for 1949
My grade: C-
2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Rage to Live Is Rotten to Read

A Rage to Live is a senior moment in novel form. About 250 pages into the novel, John O’Hara reaches the “What was I going to do?” point. He can’t remember, but he goes on writing for another 350 pages anyway.

In 1917, a Fourth of July fundraiser for the Red Cross is being held at the farm of Gladys and Sidney Tate. The governor has pulled strings to get Sidney a Navy commission.

As they go to bed that night, Sidney asks his wife, “When I’m gone will you still be wondering how much I know, how much I’ve guessed, Grace?”

Predictably, in the second chapter John O’Hara jumps back 30 years to begin the story of what Sidney knows about Grace and how he came to know it. Readers learn even more about Sidney’s sexy wife than even he knows.

None of it is pretty.

Smack in the middle of the novel, Sidney drops dead.

The novel dies with him.

Instead of engendering sympathy for Grace, the nasty things that happen to her only make her less appealing to readers. She is, to put it bluntly, a rich bitch.

And, to put it bluntly, A Rage to Live is an awful book.

A Rage to Live
By John O’Hara
Random House, 1949
590 pages
1949 Bestseller # 4
My Grade: D+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

East Side, West Side shows ordinary events become pivotal

Marcia Davenport’s East Side, West Side is a psychological novel that holds a mirror up to ourselves.

Jessie Bourne had been passionately in love with New York aristocrat Brandon Bourne when they married. Over 17 years, dissimilar tastes and interests along with Brandon’s womanizing have killed that passion.randon will never divorce Jessie. He has never actually loved any of his women. Besides, Jessie has money.

Jessie won’t divorce Brandon; she regards divorce as an admission of defeat.

At a party, Jessie meets General Mark Dwyer. They are moving discretely toward an affair when Brandon comes home in a panic. His brother had seen his mistress killed by a man who had been using the woman as a tool in his blackmail schemes.

Jessie’s quick thinking and loyal contacts save Brandon’s family from scandal, but in the process Jessie takes a hard look at Brandon and herself.

East Side, West Side is almost too good for comfort. In its pages we see how ordinary experiences like being bored by one’s relatives or arguing with one’s spouse can become catalysts that change the course of a person’s life.

Find a copy of East Side, West Side.

It’s a novel worth rereading.

East Side, West Side
By Marcia Davenport
Schribner’s, 1947
376 pages
1947 bestseller #9
My Grade: B+

© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni