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 inevitable doesn’t happen in Sparkenbroke

Charles Morgan’s Sparkenbroke is about art and the artist’s relationship to the world.

The plot is only of marginal interest.


Sparkenbroke by Charles Morgan

MacMillan, 1936. 553 p. 1936 bestseller #3. My grade: B.


The novel is set in an English country town at the edge of the Sparkenbroke estate. Lord Sparkenbroke, a renowned poet and novelist, flits back from Italy occasionally, spending most of his time writing in a cottage on the estate.

Sparkenbroke’s wealthy wife runs the estate which she is restoring to profitability for their children to inherit.

Mary Leward comes to Chelmouth to visit her former teacher, Helen Hardy.

When Mary’s father practically disowns her for breaking her engagement to a wealthy man, Helen’s brother, George Hardy, steps in with a proposal of marriage.

Mary meets Lord Sparkenbroke, whom she knows through his poetry.

Mary thinks she can be Sparkenbroke’s muse and George’s wife, too.

Morgan explores Sparkenbroke’s vision of death as the ultimate transcendent experience. All most readers will see, however, is a picture of a working writer.

The seemingly inevitable affair is never consummated.

All the characters love, or at least are fond of, the others.

And Sparkenbroke’s one true love his is writing.

In the end, the solid, reliable George appears as the book’s hero.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Love makes the book world go round

tag says Happy Valentine's DayLove is endlessly fascinating, even to bystanders. Perhaps that’s why in the book world, love sells.

Some novels about love are tragic, some comic.

Some love stories make you wish the romance had happened to you; others make you glad it happened to somebody else.

7 love stories for the 14th

Here, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is a list of seven bestsellers published at least 50 years ago that explore the relationships between the sexes. I’ve chosen one from each of seven decades to add a dash of history to  romance.

Sir Richard Calmady

Sir Richard Calmady was born into the world with two handicaps: a disfiguring birth defect and a mother determined to protect him. He’s rich enough to buy female companionship, but is he man enough to win it despite his repellant appearance?

The Melting of Molly

Molly is young and happily widowed. She’d rather be young and happily married. In this lively romp, Molly undertakes a program of diet, exercise, and “melting” in hot sheets in preparation for the return of her one-time boy friend, the town’s most distinguished local son.

Roper’s Row

An emotionally driven woman falls in love with an emotionally inept doctor, marries him, and mothers him until a crisis threatens to destroy their fragile relationship.

Gone with the Wind

Frankly, readers, you know this story already. Read it anyway. Margaret Mitchell wrote only one novel, and she put everything she had into it.

East Side, West Side

Dissimilar tastes and interests, and her husband’s womanizing have killed the passion Jessie felt when she married. Her husband would never divorce her; she has the money. Is an affair the answer?

Joy Street

A young woman  marries the man she loves despite her family’s assurance he’ll not amount to much. It doesn’t bother her that her family turns out to be right. It’s after her husband dies, that she is unhappy. Could she love again? Could she marry someone who appears certain to amount to something?

The Constant Image

Working on her Italian while deciding what to do with herself now that she’s divorced, a young American woman finds herself tumbling into an affair with a married Italian businessman. His family sense the relationship is more than bed-deep. Is it also deeper than his ties to his family and his homeland?

Photo credit: Love tag 1 by hisks

© 2013 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