Testimony of Two Men, one his own worst enemy

island is central image on dust jacket of "Testimony of Two Men"
Islands can be emotional as well as physical.

Taylor Caldwell begins Testimony of Two Men where more usual novels would have ended: Dr. Jonathan Ferrier has been acquitted of the murder-by-botched-abortion of his young wife, Mavis.

Unable to live among people who doubted his innocence, Jon has sold his practice to young Robert Morgan, who, of candidates Jon interviewed, seemed least likely to do harm.

Robert feels something akin to awe of Jon, for his culture as much as for his brilliant medical skill.

Jon finds Robert’s conventional, mamma’s boy behavior amusing.

Jon’s brother, Harald, made a marriage of convenience to a rich widow. She’s dead; Harald is living on an island with her nubile daughter, whom he wishes to marry.

When Robert sees Jenny, he’d like to marry her, too.

Jon thinks Jenny is a whore and Harald one of her sex partners.

Taylor Caldwell makes the novel part mystery, part romance, but always keeps her focus on the psychological development of her characters.

Jon’s insulting manner with people he thinks cruel, incompetent, or corrupt make him his own worst enemy.

Fortunately, he has some good friends who come to his rescue.

Caldwell wraps up the novel with enough of Jon’s hostility showing to prove she’s a good novelist.

Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1968, Book Club Edition, 600 pp. My grade: A-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Doctor is not a top Rinehart bestseller

Novels about doctors typically are tales about hard-working young men from poor families who, armed with only a stethescope, battle for justice, hand-washing, and marriage to millionaire’s daughters.

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Doctor follows in that tradition.

The Doctor by Mary Roberts Rinehart

©1935, 1936, 1963, 1964. This copy a Dell Edition, 1977 (paper) 448 pp. My grade B-.

Statue of doctor on pedestal thinking is central figure on cover of paperback edition of "The Doctor"Rinehart’s doctor is Chris Arden, a dedicated MD with hopes of becoming a surgeon.

He has rented office space and a bedroom from a shiftless family, the Walters, whose sole support he becomes when the alcoholic head of the family dies.

Katie Walters is in love with the doctor with a 16-year-old’s passion.

But Chris falls for the daughter of a wealthy, unscrupulous businessman. He won’t think of marrying until he can support her.

Beverly Lewis is equally smitten with Chris but unwilling to wait years for him to build a practice.

Chris is not a particularly appealing character. He’s nice to dogs and old ladies, but treats those closest to him as if they were furniture.

Katie and Beverly are not appealing either: Katie is too selfish, Beverly too much of a doormat.

The romantic ending is a deus ex machina that squeaks as Rinehart lowers it into the final chapter.

The Doctor is not a bad novel; it’s just bad compared to other Rinehart novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

K by Rinehart scrimps on happily ever after

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s  K  blends romance and mystery so satisfactorily that the unlikely plot coincidences aren’t noticeable until after the novel is back on its shelf.

K by Mary Roberts Rinehart

1915 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg EBook #9931. My grade B.

When their circumstances fall below genteel poverty level, the Page women take in borders.

Newlyweds Christine and Palmer Howe move into what had been the Page’s parlor and back sitting room.

Mr. K. LeMoyne puts his suitcase in what had been daughter Sidney’s bedroom.

Sidney is in training as a nurse, which will eventually bring in a good, steady income.

She finds surgeon Max Wilson very attractive.

Joe Drummond, who loves Sidney, is frantic. He knows the surgeon’s reputation with women and fears the worst if Dr. Max takes an interest in her.

K settles comfortably into the neighborhood, falls silently in love with Sidney, and becomes the man everyone goes to with their troubles.

Who is K?

How did he come by his wealth of knowledge?

Why does nurse Carlotta Harrison fear K so much she risks offending Dr. Max to avoid him?

Rinehart produces answers, lets all the characters learn from their experiences, and pulls everything together so that everyone lives less unhappily ever after.

For boarding-house operators, less unhappily is as good as it gets.


© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Arrowsmith stumbles and bogs down

Sinclair Lewis says Arrowsmith is the biography of a young man who was “in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back all his life and bogged himself in every obvious morass.”

The novel also stumbles and bogs down.

Arrowsmith in laboratory graces 1952 dust jacket of novel

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

©1925. 1952 ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, includes a biographical sketch of Sinclair Lewis and “How Arrowsmith was written,” both by Barbara Grace Spayd. 464 pp. 1925 bestseller #7. My grade: B.

A drunken doctor lets Martin Arrowsmith read his Gray’s Anatomy and points him toward medical school.

Martin takes a BA, a MD, and a wife. He wants to do research, but is forced into general practice to support Leora.

He’s hopeless as a doctor: He has no people skills.

A lucky discovery leads him into a research job under the great Max Gottlieb.

Martin wants respect among scientists, but he’s willing to throw even that away when his emotions are touched.

An epidemic on a Caribbean Island gives Martin a chance to run a controlled test of a vaccine. Martin promises Gottlieb that  he won’t give in to demands to supply it to all residents.

Lewis makes Martin, Leora, and Gottleib plausible, if not particularly likeable. He sketches minor characters with broad strokes of sarcasm.

The total effect is neither serious enough or funny enough to satisfy today’s reader, but the Pulitzer committee thought the novel worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Private Worlds explores the craziness of the sane

TItle page of Private WorldsOn one level, Private Worlds is a romance whose outcome is never is doubt. On another level, it’s a realistic story of alliances and jealousies in a closed world where the outcomes are unpredictable.

As the story opens, Jane Everett is waiting to hear whether Alex MacGregor has been named superintendent of the mental hospital at which they, respectively, head the men’s and women’s departments.

Jane is disturbed that instead of going first to his bride, Sally, Alex comes to her to say they should quit: The choice has gone to an outsider Alex’s own age who dislikes women doctors.

For Sally’s sake as well as Alex’s, Jane counsels patience.

Jane senses that though the new superintendent appears cold, he is fair and willing to listen. Jane is sure even Alex can work with Dr. Drummond if they give him a fair chance.

Trouble arises when Dr. Drummond’s sexy, manipulative sister comes to visit.

Phyllis Bottome is interested in the self-defeating behaviors of the legally sane. Instead of the horrific mental disturbances presented in The Snake Pit and Compulsion, for example, she gives us homely pictures of irrational thinking to which everyone falls prey.

Private Worlds isn’t a great novel, but its more than just entertainment. Bottome provides readers ideas to chew on.

Private Worlds
By Phyllis Bottome
Houghton, Mifflin, 1934
342 pages
My grade: B+
1934 bestseller #7

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Not as a Stranger Is Too Much of a Good Thing

Morton Thompson is a fine writer with a keen sense of how plot arises from character. He’s also a master of snappy dialogue and savory description. If only Thompson had stopped sooner, Not As a Stranger would be great reading.

As a boy, Luke Marsh decides medicine will be his life. Luke grubs his way through college. When his father dies suddenly during Luke’s first year of medical school, Luke marries a nurse with a plump bank account so he can push on to become a doctor.

Luke finds most of his colleagues lacking in skill, dedication, or selflessness. He also finds patients are a real nuisance. Luke can’t relate to anyone except on a professional basis.

If Luke is a misfit, his wife, Kristine, is overdue for canonization or psychotherapy. She overlooks Luke’s adultery, excuses his incivility, pays his bills, and lets him use her as a doormat.

Luke and Kristine go on digging their rut deeper until it seems impossible for the story to ever be resolved.

Thompson does finally pull the story to a halt with a device only slightly more credible than a magic wand. But at that point, a fairy godmother would have been welcome.

Not As a Stranger
By Morton Thompson
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954
696 pages
1954 Bestseller #1

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Breaking Point Is Vintage Gem

Mary Roberts Rinehart House

In The Breaking Point, Mary Roberts Rinehart skillfully weaves mystery and romance into a page-turner peopled with characters that feel like old friends by the novels’ end.

The mystery concerns Dr. Dick Livingstone, the nephew whom Dr. David Livingstone and his sister Lucy are grooming to take over his uncle’s practice.

Dick came east from Wyoming, went to medical school, and served in WWI. Recently he discovered Elizabeth Wheeler and is thinking of marriage. He has little memory of his life in Wyoming except for being tended by David during a long illness.

A rumor has reached town that the Wyoming Livingstone never married. Dick thinks he ought to make sure there’s nothing in his past to prevent him from marrying Elizabeth.

Dick takes Elizabeth to the theater to see Beverly Carlysle, an actress once involved with the profligate son of a multimillionaire rancher implicated in the murder of the actress’s husband. Carlysle’s manager-brother thinks Dick is Judson Clark whom authorities believed died in a Wyoming blizzard. A reporter realizes if the man is Jud, he has the scoop of a lifetime.

Dick heads west.

The reporter heads west.

Elizabeth waits anxiously at home.

Though mysteries are usually stronger on plot than characterization, Rinehart manages her far-flung cast so they not only appear on cue but also age and mature chapter by chapter. The characters are enveloped in the small town atmosphere that wafts from each chapter, making Rinehart’s sweet-tart ending feel entirely natural.

The Breaking Point
Mary Roberts Rinehart
1922 Bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg ebook #1601

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons photo of Mary Roberts Rinehart House in  Pittsburgh’s Allegheny West Historic District where she lived  with her family from 1907 to 1912 .

©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Magnificent Obsession Is Not Even Memorable

 Old Medical Books

Magnificent Obsession
is one of Lloyd C. Douglas’s string of forgettable novels about the psychological benefits of practicing New Testament principles.

If you read White Banners or Green Light, you’ll find this novel familiar. Only the names have been changed to protect the author’s royalties.

In this novel, a neurosurgeon learns that if he does good deeds in secret, he is rewarded financially. He records his philanthropic experiences of not letting his right hand know what his left hand is doing (very tough for a surgeon) in secret code in a diary.

After Hudson’s death, the wealthy young n’er-do-well who deciphers the code is inspired to replace Hudson. In two pages, Bobby Merrick goes from ready-to-flunk med school to head of the Hudson Clinic.

Bobby not only becomes as good a doctor as his hero, he saves the doctor’s beloved daughter from a life of dissipation. He also wins the hero’s widow.

Douglas mashes romance and religion into a soggy pulp. Fortunately, the plot is so contrived and the characters so predictable that you’ll forget the book within an hour of finishing reading it.

Magnificent Obsession
Lloyd C. Douglas
Peoples Book Club, 1929
330 pages
1932 Bestseller #8
My Grade: C-

Photo credit: “Old Medical Books”  uploaded by aerogurl  http://www.sxc.hu/photo/122275

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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

The Egyptian Joins Pessimism to Pyramids

The Egyptian is a fictional memoir of the life of a physician in the days of the pharaohs. The narrator, Sinuhe, is an old man, sick of gods and kings. He says he writes for himself rather than for posterity.

Unfortunately, Mika Waltari published the “memoir,”  inflicting Sinuhe’s misery on readers for 500 pages.

Readers will find a new interesting historical bits in this novel, but it’s entertainment value is nil.

Sinuhe’s medical skills take him all over the Middle East. His specialty is brain surgery: he drills holes in people’s heads to let out the badness.

Sinuhe meets heads of countries and commanders of armies, patches up wounded soldiers, treats the poor for free. When necessity demands, he hastens the deaths of enemies of Egypt.

Back in Thebes, he sides with the party of the newly-created god, Aton, against the followers of Ammon. The religious controversy ends in wholesale slaughter.

Sinuhe is exiled to end his days living up to his name, “the One Who Is Alone.”

Waltari’s novel is packed with sex and violence related with all the passion of the police blotter. Only Sinuhe’s servants, Kaptah and Muti, feel like living people. The rest of the characters are just hieroglyphics.

The Egyptian: A Novel
By Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnan’s Sons,  1949
503 pages
1949 Bestseller # 1
My Grade: C-

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni