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The Call of the Canyon starts out looking the standard western romance. Then Zane Grey gets caught up in the lives of his characters. Instead of finding romance, the novel’s leading lady finds herself. Pigs

Thunderation.

Carley Burch, 26, a young woman of Jazz Age Manhattan is engaged to Glenn Kilborne. Gassed and shell-shocked in France, Glenn has gone to Arizona recover. The war affected something more than just Glenn’s body.

A year later, Carley pays Glenn a surprise visit, intending to bring him home. She finds him recovered physically, raising hogs, determined never to go back East.

Dangnabbit.

Carley is sure Glenn loves her, but he admires a local girl who returns his admiration. Carley decides to show Glenn she can take western hardships as uncomplainingly as Flo does.

As always, Grey’s scene descriptions are vivid and poetic. Grey does an unusually good job developing Carley’s character. He draws the lecherous Haze Ruff perfectly in a few lines. The other characters are flat.

Let me give you a hunch: If only Grey had learned from Carley’s experience, the novel could have been wonderful. On the verge of letting the novel go to its logical conclusion, Grey jerks back into comfort of familiar formulas.

Now, don’t that take the rag off the bush?

The Call of the Canyon
By Zane Grey
1924 bestselleter # 6
Project Gutenberg ebook #1881
My grade: B-

Photo credit: Pigs by Btenow

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

James Oliver Curwood’s A Gentleman of Courage is the love story of two youngsters who are informally adopted by the residents of a community on an inlet off Lake Superior.
Peter and Mona
The boy, Peter MacRae, is the son of a man wanted for murder. He sends Peter to a friend who owns the lumber mill at Five Fingers before disappearing.

Entering Five Fingers, Peter sees orphan Mona Guyon being molested. Although Aleck Curry is older and stronger than he, Peter rushes to her assistance, winning her everlasting devotion.

Peter is required to prove his courage several more times before the novel ends.

Peter and Mona are planning their wedding when Donald MacRae returns, weak and ill but longing for sight of his son. The police, led by Aleck Curry, are on his trail.

Curwood has difficulty making the children’s behavior fit both their ages and the plot. Either they appear way too old or way too young.

He draws other characters with such broad strokes they appear as caricatures. Fortunately Curwood includes enough action that the underdeveloped characters are not obvious until the book’s end.

The novel is good enough to keep readers turning pages, but not good enough to make them remember what they read a week later.

Peter returns to Five Fingers

Five Fingers greets Peter on his return after the forest fire.

A Gentleman of Courage: A Novel of the Wilderness
By James Oliver Curwood
Illustrations from original paintings by Robert W. Stewart
Cosmopolitan Book Corp., 1924
1924 bestseller #5
My grade: B-
 

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Heirs Apparent by Phillip Gibbs twines two heart-felt cries of British fiction of the ’20s and ’30s: “Nothing’s been the same since the war,” and “young people today only want to have fun.”

The basic plot is a familiar one. Julian Perryam leaves Oxford without taking his degree just before he can be expelled after a night in which he and friends drank too much and got back after hours. Julian’s friend Audrey Nye, daughter of a vicar, is sent down.

After years of hobnobbing with rich kids who don’t need to work or for whom a career is assured by their parents’ connections, the ex-scholars find themselves having to work for a living — a task for which Oxford has not prepared them — in a of high unemployment.

Julian and Audrey spout the slogans of their peers but secretly are as conventional as their parents. Living at home again, they realize how much their families sacrificed for them.

Gibbs enriches his romance with sprinkling of sarcasm that mature readers will feel the young idealists’ selfcenteredness warrants.

Julian and Audrey rise to the challenge in 1924. Whether they will bring up their children according to their slogans or according to their principles is open to speculation.

The Heirs Apparent
By Phillip Gibbs
Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
375 pages
1924 bestseller #4
My grade: B

© 2014 Linda GortonAragoni

Jacket of novel The Little French Girl
The Little French Girl is a novel that needs to be peeled, layer by layer, like a sweet onion. Reading it requires alertness and either some French or a good French dictionary.

The story opens with Alix Vervier being met at Victoria Station by Giles Owen. Madame Vervier, presuming on a war-time acquaintance with Giles’ deceased brother, has sent Alix to England to find a suitable marriage partner.

At 15, Alix has childish innocence at odds with her acute perceptivity. She immediately likes Giles and the late Capt. Owen’s fiancée, Topee.

The rest of the noisy, sports crazy Owen family take some getting used to.

The novel follows Alix as she tries to be an obedient French daughter without offending her English hosts who find the idea of a parent arranging a child’s marriage unthinkable.

A summary can’t do this exquisite, lavendar-gray novel justice. Anne Douglas Sedgwick makes Alix’s growth from precocious teen to sensitive adult unfold as naturally as a flower coming into bloom, even though the growth process is painful for Alix, her French family, and her English hosts.

The Little French Girl
By Anne Douglas Sedgwick
Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
508 pages
1924 bestseller #3
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Girl lures college man to find alcohol.“When an American sets out to found a college, he hunts first for a hill.”  Thus Percy Marks begins a novel that attempts unsuccessfully to be an indictment of American higher education in the jazz age. Marks writes:

The college is made up of men who worship mediocrity; that is their ideal except in athletics.

In a nutshell, the plot of The Plastic Age is this: A wholesome, American farm boy named Hugh Carver goes to a college founded so men might “find the true light of God and the glory of Jesus in the halls of this most liberal college.”

Hugh loses the faith he entered college with, finds nothing to replace it, and graduates without enough education to even decide on a career.

Hugh does, however, learn to drink, smoke, gamble, and swear.

The novelist seems to equate the educational system represented by Sanford College with Prohibition era drinking and casual approach to sex. That’s a questionable equation.

But however he defines the problem, in order to skewer the system that produced it Marks must make readers care about its victims.

Percy Marks isn’t writer enough do that.

The novel never gets any better than its opening line.

The Plastic Age
by Percy Marks
Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
1924 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg EBook #16532
My grade C+

Photo credit: The photo is from the screenplay of Marks’ novel.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Jacket cover of So BigEdna Ferber’s So Big is a gentle, thoughtful novel peopled with believable characters and edged in tears.

Selina Peake grew up wherever her father’s profession—gambling—took them. Life was an adventure to her father. He told Selina to relax and enjoy it:

‘The more kinds of people you see, and the more things you do, and the more things that happen to you, the richer you are. Even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living. Remember, no matter what happens, good or bad, its’ just so much’—he used the gambler’s term, unconsciously,—’just so much velvet.

When her father dies, Selina goes to teach at a rural school in a Dutch farming community. She causes merriment by saying the fields of cabbage are beautiful and consternation by her frivolous, city clothes.

Within a year, she marries a farmer with no talent for farming. They have one child, Dirk, whom Selina calls by his childhood nickname, “So Big.”

Widowed before Dirk is 10, Selina takes over running the farm, making it profitable so that Dirk won’t have to be a farmer.

She teaches Dirk life isn’t an adventure, that something good isn’t just around the corner. Dirk believes her, and at the time she believes she’s telling the truth.

Dirk does what’s necessary to becomes a success short of outright illegality.

Though Selina and Dirk remain close, as she grows older, Selina senses that she failed her son.

The Pulitzer committee agreed with readers that So Big is a gem.

Read it and find out for yourself.

So Big
By Edna Ferber
© 1924, Doubleday
1924 bestseller #1
283 pages
My grade: A

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Very few of the novels from the 1924 bestseller list are read often today, but several of them should be.

Finding print copies to read can be a challenge. Some of the titles are still under copyright, which means readers must rely on used booksellers.  I linked to the free Project Gutenberg downloadable ebook if a digital copy of the novel is available.

Cover of So Big by Edna Ferber

If you have time to read only one novel from the list, I suggest you try Edna Ferber’s So Big. It’s a good novel—it won a Pulitzer and was adapted for  film three times— and is readily available from booksellers. If you are interested in knowing Ferber herself, the Appleton Wisconsin Public Library collection includes information and photos of Ferber who lived in Appleton.

Here’s the list with the dates I’ll be posting my reviews:

  1. So Big by Edna Ferber [July 5]
  2. The Plastic Age by Percy Marks, ebook #16532 July 8]
  3. The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick [July 12]
  4. The Heirs Apparent by Phillip Gibbs [July 15]
  5. A Gentleman of Courage by James Oliver Curwood [July 19]
  6. The Call of the Canyon by Zane Grey, ebook #1881  [July 22]
  7. The Midlander by Booth Tarkington [July 26]
  8. The Coast of Folly by Coningsby Dawson [July 29]
  9. Mistress Wilding by Rafael Sabatini, e-book #1457 [Aug. 2]
  10. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher [Aug. 5]

Project Gutenberg

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