In The Midlander*, Booth Tarkington creates a set of distinctive characters whose behavior weaves a plot that feels inevitable.
From childhood, the Oliphant brothers are uncongenial. Harlan Oliphant is an aloof aristocrat, respectable and responsible; his younger brother, Dan, is a rumpled democrat, popular and aimless.
Tarkington embeds the Oliphant brothers’ story in the setting of the rise of America’s great manufacturing cities in the two decades before World War I.
Harlan falls for the girl next door; Martha cares only for Dan, who considers her just a good pal.
When Dan chooses a city girl instead of Martha, his grandmother changes her will in favor of Harlan, whom she dislikes, rather than let Dan waste her fortune.
Dan impulsively becomes a real estate developer, planning to make a fortune in 10 years or so when Midland would have grown big enough to reach his Ornaby Addition.
Dan’s wife, Lena, makes no attempt to fit in with his plans. She is bitterly jealous of Martha.
Dan never wavers from his vision, never grows beyond his 20-year-old self as everyone else around him changes in more or less subtle ways.
Despite the novel’s complexity, Tarkington’s lean prose here makes The Midlander both entertaining and rewarding reading.
*Tarkington published the first edition of The Midlander in 1924, wrapping up a set of three novels which he brought out in a single volume under the name Growth in 1927. In Growth, Tarkington changed the name The Midlander to National Avenue. National Avenue appears as the final work in that volume. The other novels in the trilogy are The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and The Turmoil (1915)
By Booth Tarkington
Pages 591-887 of Growth
1924 bestseller #7
My grade: A-
©2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni