Traditional values triumph in Marjorie Morningstar

Marjorie Morningstar is a bittersweet novel of a beautiful Jewish teenager whose theatrical ambitions and moral principles collide.

Marjorie Morgenstern’s decision to be an actress is an act of adolescent rebellion.

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Doubleday, 1955. 565 pages. 1955 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

At 15, Marjorie has good looks, enough talent to shine in amateur theatrics, and enough sense to avoid promiscuous sex.

Front Dust Jacket of Marjorie MorningstarShe hasn’t enough sense to see that Noel Airman, born Saul Ehrmann, is a loser: smart, talented, sexy, personable, but rootless.

For six years, Marjorie pursues Noel, who warns her he’s not the marrying kind, and the theater, which is equally unwilling to have her on any but sexual terms.

Marjorie isn’t willing to give up her virginity for an acting role, but to get Noel she might.

Herman Wouk sets Marjorie’s story between the Depression and World War II. Without preaching, Wouk makes clear that survival depends on maintaining traditional values—marriage, family, work, religion.

Although Wouk uses stock characters, the story works because Marjorie is so young.

Adults know what will happen to Marjorie, but she doesn’t.

She makes herself believe she is consumed by passion. In truth, she’s simply too embarrassed to admit a mistake.

Marjorie Morningstar is good reading—and highly recommended for parents and grandparents of teens.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Engaging Guttersnipe Entertains In the Bishop’s Carriage 

Model of closed horse-drawn carriage
The  bishop’s carriage might have looked like this scale model.

My fear that Miriam Michelson’s In the Bishop’s Carriage was going to be soppy, religious novel was dispelled on page one when Nancy Olde nips into the womens’ room with a watch Tom Drogan has just lifted and, after tidying her hair, walks out wearing a stranger’s red coat with a chinchilla collar.

To avoid a cop, Nancy nips into a waiting carriage, naps, and awakes to find the carriage’s other occupant is a bishop. Nancy talks herself out of the danger and into the heart of the childless bishop.

Nancy returns to Tom and does some pleasant thieving until a burglary goes wrong.

While Tom spends most of his time in solitary confinement at Sing Sing. Nancy turns her powers of observation and talent for mimicry into work in vaudeville.

When Tom breaks out, Nancy refuses to join him again.

Then Nancy is caught with a purse full of stolen money that she didn’t steal.

Michelson lets Nancy narrate the story first to Tom, then to a childhood friend from Cruelty. Through oblique references, readers can piece together a picture of Nancy’s childhood.

Through everything, Nancy bubbles with fun. Nancy enjoys life and readers will enjoy it with her by proxy.

In the Bishop’s Carriage
By Miriam Michelson
1904 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #481
My grade: C+

Photo credit:  Carriage  uploaded by jakubson

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni




The Royal Box: Murder with Happy Ending

Dust Jacket shows theater party in The Royal BoxThe Royal Box is a murder mystery with an epilogue that seems added to let the story end on a upbeat note.

Frances Parkinson Keyes provides a cast of characters in order of appearance. The book jacket provides an account of the love affair in 1926 that led to the murder-by-cyanide in 1951. The fact that both those reader aids were thought necessary in a work of popular fiction shows how complicated the novel is.

The poisoned man is Baldwin Castle, newly appointed ambassador to an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. Years before, after being jilted by an English aristocrat, he’d had an affair with actress Janice Lester.

He left her pregnant.

When Castle and his new, second wife pass through London, they are entertained with a theater party in the Royal Box at the theater where Janice Lester is starring.

The guests include the woman who Castle thought jilted him; the ambassador of the country to which Castle has been assigned; Janice, her husband, and their adopted son who is really Castle’s and Janice’s son.

A dry-as-dust policeman figures out who done it.

And Keyes makes sure everyone’s life ends more happily than Baldwin Castle’s did.

The Royal Box
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
New York: Julian Messner, 1954
303 pages
1954 bestseller #4
My grade: C

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

So Little Time mourns what might have been

birthday cake

Jeffrey Wilson had started out as a journalist with aspirations of a literary career.  The one play of his that was produced, bombed. Now middle aged, Jeff has become a script doctor. Directors respect his ability to sharpen lines so they convey the playwrite’s intent.

Jeff wouldn’t need to work (His wife, Madge, inherited money.), but his self-respect demands it.

He knows he has an instinct for the technical aspects of theater, but feels he lacks the talent to write a good play. But, like everyone at mid-life, he wonders if he might not be successful if he only gives it one more try.

So Little Time is about what happens when Jeff tries one more time.

John P. Marquand paints a placid picture of middle age that roils with an almost adolescent angst beneath its surface. Jeff swings in a minute from feeling Madge doesn’t’ understand him to feeling she knows what’s he’s thinking. But unlike a teenager, he doesn’t let on.

Marquand makes Jeff and Madge very ordinary people, believable and forgettable, like most of the people we come across in our lives.

So Little Time is the story of every man and woman’s middle years. You won’t remember the plot, only the feeling of loss it leaves.

So Little Time
By John P. Marquard
Little, Brown, 1943
595 pages
1943 bestseller # 3
My Grade: B+

Photo credit: Happy Birthday by signalchao

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Theatre Is a Class Act

Red Stage Curtain
Theatre: A Novel starts out as superficial as Entertainment Today but segues at the last minute to an analysis of the role of the arts in life. Incredibly, W. Somerset Maugham makes the thing work.

Acting is Julia Gosselyn’s career and her life. She studies people and events constantly to enrich her performances. Even as she engages in ordinary activities, she’s conscious of how she’s appearing to others.

Her husband, a poor actor but brilliant theater manager, adores her. He brings out her best on stage and bores her at home. She’s faithful to him, though people assume she’s had a lover for years.

At mid-life, Julia’s disciplined life turns topsy-turvy when she falls for a man only a few years older than her son. That son triggers Julia’s examination of her life.

Julia finds her work matters. As for sex, well, it can be fun, but it’s not nearly as enchanting as a steak with onions and fries.

Maugham ties things together so adroitly that the novel’s ending seems inevitable. He makes you understand that art must reveal life without being life.

Theatre is easy reading, the sex is all off-stage, and readers end up understanding a bit about why theater matters.

What’s not to like?

Theatre: A Novel
By W. Somerset Maugham
Literary Guild, 1937
292 pages
1937 bestseller #7
My Grade: B

Photo credit: Stage Curtain (Red) by Dominik Gwarek

©2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni