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.
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