Peter intrigues by what it might have been

Nobody runs over a child if he can help it. Even a thief will bring you back your pocket-book if you trust him to take care of it. It is the trusting that does it. Few men, no matter how crooked, can resist the temptation of reaching, if only for a moment, an honest man’s level.

Peter is a romance, albeit with twinges of philosophy, but Peter is not one of its lovers.

Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero

by F. Hopkinson Smith. 1909 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #4516.
My grade: B-.

Peter Grayson, a bald, 60-year-old banker, meets a young Marylander working in his uncle’s stock brokerage company.

Jack Breen has no love for Wall Street, but he has no training for any other white-collar work and thinks himself above manual labor.

Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan painted
Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan in 1914 by artist Richard Rummell.

When Jack learns a friend was bankrupted by a dirty deal his uncle put over, he resigns and moves out of Uncle Arthur’s home.

Peter gets Jack a job working for an engineer with a beautiful daughter.

Jack is smart and brave, but inclined to put his brain into neutral where people he likes are concerned.

When Jack’s friend Garry Minott commits suicide after unwise speculation leads him to embezzle, Jack rushes to save his friend’s reputation for the sake of Garry’s infant son.

F. Hopkinson Smith starts out well with plot and characterization, but he never lets either develop their potential.

Smith doesn’t let Jack learn, for example, how his lame-brained attempts to raise cash affect his future father-in-law’s business, though Smith lays all the groundwork that lesson.

Peter remains nothing more than a pleasant diversion, albeit one with very intriguing “what ifs.”

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Pit Makes Commodities Trading Exciting

In The Pit: A Story of Chicago, Frank Norris combines a very good story with a mediocre one.

The better story, believe it or not,  is about speculating in wheat futures.

field of sprouted winter wheat
How much is this field of sprouted winter wheat worth?

Norris shows the challenge of beating the market becomes as addictive as heroin. Once hooked, traders risk their fortunes, their families, their very lives for fractions of a cent per bushel.

The weak, secondary story is a romance. The leading lady of this story marries the leading man of the other.Even she cannot understand her own behavior, which is equally bewildering to readers.

Despite the handicap of the secondary story, The Pit is powerful and very contemporary.

Norris assumes his readers know how commodities trading works. That might have been true in 1903, but I doubt many novel readers today have the necessary background.

However, if you know or are willing to look up how the market works (there’s a good, short explanation in another 1903 bestseller, George Horace Lorimer’s Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son) will find that Norris’s 110-year-old novel gives a remarkably accurate picture of how the global economy of 2013 affects the daily lives of those who haven’t money to play the markets.

The Pit: A Story of Chicago
by Frank Norris
1903 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg EBook #4382
My grade B-
Photo Credit: Sprouting Winter Wheat by Krappweis

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni