The Disenchanted shows nothing destroys like success

Shep Stearns  is thrilled when studio mogul Victor Milgrim pairs him with his hero, Pulitzer-winning novelist Manley Halliday, to turn Shep’s screenplay concept into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Halliday hasn’t produced a novel in years, is over his eyebrows in debt, diabetic, and hanging on to sobriety by his fingernails.

Shep doesn’t know any of that. To him, Manley is the epitome of youthful success, an embodiment of the beautiful life Shep wants for himself.

Unwittingly, Shep provides an audience for Manley’s recollections of his life as a  ’20s celebrity and gives him enough booze to ruin both their screenwriting careers.

The character of Manley is a fictional amalgam of the big name writers of the 1920s when the cult of celebrity — idolizing the famous for being famous — began.  However, Budd Schulberg’s allusions to writers, actors, politicians who were household words in the years between the great wars make The Disenchanted feel more like creative nonfiction than a novel.

Schulberg’s plot is packed with Hollywoodish implausabilities, but his depictions of a would-be writer and a has-been writer make the book can’t-put-down reading.

The novel suggests dozens of reasons why promising writers don’t fulfill their promise, but concludes, “There is never a simple reason for not writing a book or not writing your best.”

The Disenchanted
By  Budd Schulberg
1950 bestseller #10
My grade: B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My top picks from 1950 bestselling novels

The 1950 bestseller list includes several novels that you will enjoy as you read them, but few that you will remember well enough to recall the story a  month later.

My top picks  from the year are:

The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson

The Wall by John Hersey

Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes

Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow

The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg

Not one of these is great literature, but they are good entertainment with a dollop of originality.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Disenchanted Shows Nothing Destroys Like Success

Shep Stearns  is thrilled when studio mogul Victor Milgrim pairs him with his hero to turn Shep’s movie concept into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Pulitzer-winning novelist Manley Halliday hasn’t produced a book in years. He is over his eyebrows in debt, diabetic, and hanging on to sobriety by his fingernails.

Shep doesn’t know any of that. To him, Manley is the epitome of youthful success, an embodiment of the beautiful life Shep wants for himself.

Unwittingly, Shep provides an audience for Manley’s recollections of his life as a  ’20s celebrity and gives him enough booze to ruin both their screenwriting careers.

Manley is a fictional amalgum of the big name writers of the 1920s when the cult of celebrity —idolizing the famous for being famous — began. Budd Schulberg’s allusions to writers, actors, politicians who were household words in the years between the great wars make The Disenchanted feel more like creative nonfiction than novel.

The novel suggests dozens of reasons why promising writers don’t fulfill their promise, but concludes “there is never a simple reason for not writing a book or not writing your best.”

Schulberg’s plot is packed with Hollywoodish implausabilities, but Schulberg’s depictions of the would-be writer and the has-been writer make the book can’t-put-down reading.

The Disenchanted
by Budd Schulberg
Random House, 1950
Viking Compass Edition, 1975, with new introduction by the author
388 pages
1950 bestseller #10
My grade B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Adventurer Is A Bad Trip

Michael Bast is 6 or 7 when his Finland home, Abo, is sacked by the Jutes.  Pierjo Furfoot, whom local children call a witch, takes him in. Michael’s goal is to become a priest, but the 16th century Catholic Church won’t accept take bastards.

Michael and brawny pal, Andy Karlsson, are drawn into a series of misadventures that take them all over Europe just as Luther’s reforms split entire countries along religious lines. They witness torture and mayhem from Finland to Rome, and have a hand in some of it themselves – with the noblest of intentions, of course.

Fortunately neither Michael nor Andy has any real political or religious convictions. They fall in with whichever side talks longest, thereby convincing Michael, and whichever pays best, thereby winning over Andy.

Michael is the stereotypical scholar full of good intentions and without a shred of common sense. Andy is an illiterate muscle man whose shrewd instinct for spotting a con snatches Michael from mayhem again and again.

To follow Mika Waltari’s blood-soaked plot requires a thorough knowledge of Renaissance and Reformation history. Understanding Waltari’s cardboard characters requires nothing but suspension of disbelief.

The Adventurer
By Mika Waltari
Trans Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1950
377  pages
1950 bestseller #9
My Grade: C-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Jubilee Trail Celebrates Women’s Strength

Garnet Cameron, newly graduated from a select New York finishing school in 1844, promptly falls head over heals for a Harvard drop-out turned prairie trader. Oliver Hale appeals to a sense of adventure Garnet never knew she had.

They marry and set off  for California, planning to return to New York the following year.

In New Orleans, Garnet engineers the escape of  a dance hall singer accused of murder who  turns up again on the wagon train west over the Jubilee Trail. Garnet and Florinda become best friends.

Once in California, Garnet has to deal with Oliver’s controlling elder brother who had planned a  politically expedient marriage for Oliver. Garnet’s hero-husband turns wimp in his brother’s shadow.

When Oliver is killed, Garnet moves in with Florinda, both working as barmaids in Los Angeles. They live through earthquakes, the US annexation of California,  Charles Hale’s attempt to abduct his late brother’s infant son, and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.

Garnet looks for abiding love that Florinda denies exists, yet they remain fiercely loyal to each other. Both  face whatever life dishes out, tidy up, and get ready for the next challenge. Through this unlikely pair, novelist Gwen Bristow makes Jubilee Trail a  celebration of women.

The Jubilee Trail
Gwen Bristow
Thomas T. Crowell, 1950
564 pages
1950 bestseller # 8
My grade B-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Floodtide Is a Wash Out

In 1850, Ross Pary returns to his native Natchez attired as a gentleman. He has an Oxford education and credentials as an architect. He aims to become a gentleman planter.

Before he is off the boat, Ross is smitten by the gorgeous, amoral Morgan Brittany, whose much-older husband becomes Ross’s best friend, helping him gain acceptance in planter society.

Ross falls for the daughter of a Cuban freedom fighter. He follows Conchita to Cuba and joins in the fight against the Spanish. Ross and Conchita marry just before they are caught and separated, each thinking the other is dead.

Ross goes back to America, where he eventually marries. Conchita goes to Europe and becomes a celebrated dancer.

As Civil War looms, Ross frees his slaves, incurring the wrath of his neighbors and his vehemently pro-slavery wife. Morgan connives to separate Ross from his wife, and succeeds in a way she never imagined.

Floodtide is a hodgepodge of episodes from standard romance fiction strung together with Ross Pary in the leading male role. Unfortunately, author Frank Yerby’s doesn’t stick with romance. He pulls in a half dozen other genres as well.

Whatever your literary tastes, you’ll find something to dislike in this awful novel.

Floodtide
by Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1950
1950 bestseller #6
My grade: C
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni
 

Parasites Tops Unappealing Novel with Appalling Title

The Parasites is matter-of-fact tale about “those horrible Delaney children” who grow into what the husband of one calls “parasites.”

The Delaneys’ parents were celebrities, she a dancer, he an opera singer. The children are half-siblings. Maria is his, Niall is hers, Celia the only legitimate child of theirs.

Maria becomes a successful actress. Niall settles for composing popular ditties better suited to his talents than the great music he yearns to write. Celia foregoes an art career to care for Papa.

When Maria marries the Honorable Charles Wyndham she makes sure dear Niall and dependable Celia are always around. Before long, relations between the conventional Charles and the Delaneys reach a crisis.

Daphne du Maurier has Celia narrate some of the story, occasionally referring to herself in the third person. Du Maurier gives other parts to an omniscient narrator.  Flashbacks add to the confusion.

The shifts make it hard to know  what is going on among the Delaneys, but if it’s what I suspect, I am just as glad I don’t know for sure.

The novel’s most serious flaw is the Delaneys themselves: Parasites are not appealing creatures.

The Parasites
by Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1950
305 pages
1950 bestseller #6
My grade: C
©2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Star Money a Depressing Tale of Neurotic Novelist

The star of Kathleen Winsor’s Star Money, Shireen Delaney, is a  disturbed child who grows up to become a hugely successful novelist, disturbing a great many other people in the process.

As a teenager, Shireen was not interested in school or reading. She appeared to have little interest in boys.  Nobody knew about the novels she’d been writing for years.

Within a few months of her marriage to nice, quiet Ed Farrell, however, he goes to the war and all the undiscovered facets of Shireen’s personality burst out.

To relieve the monotony of life alone, Shireen pounds out a novel and has affairs with Ed’s buddies. A New York agent turns Shireen into a celebrity author and becomes the closest thing Shireen has to a friend.

When Ed returns from service, he finds himself a non-entity in his wife’s social circles. Ed packs up and goes back home to L.A., leaving Shireen to face life  alone, with only  her agent, her boyfriends, and thousands of adoring fans for support. If you can believe author Kathleen Winsor, not one of those folks realizes Shireen has a few screws insufficiently tightened.

Winsor babbles about Shireen’s childhood, but show us nothing that could have warped anyone who was not already soft in the psyche.

Save your own psyche. Forget this novel.

Star Money
by Kathleen Winsor
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950
442 pages
1950 bestseller # 5
My grade C

© Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Wall Is Rock-Solid Story of Warsaw Ghetto

John Hersey’s The Wall is a story of the Warsaw ghetto. Unlike many holocaust novels, The Wall focuses primarily on the Jews’ fight to overcome their human natures. Their resistance to the Nazis comes out of that fight.

In 1939, the Jews are being squeezed into a small section of Warsaw, and the Poles who had lived and worked among them are being squeezed out.

The Nazis order the Jews to set up their own governing council.  Political parties from before the war continue their squabbles.  As conditions in the ghetto worsen, the Jews turn on their leaders.

Even in the ghetto, someone with the right currency and connections can get almost anything he wants.  Gradually, the pre-war social and economic leaders give way to a new set of leaders: smugglers, blackmarketeers, resistance operatives. Families are broken up; those who remain form new families of unrelated people.

Hersey presents his story as a series of documents written during the ghetto years and buried for posterity. The story, however, has no need of literary tricks to make it plausible. The behavior of the core characters is so realistic that readers will accept the story as representing the Warsaw ghetto.

The Wall
By John Hersey
Alfred A. Knopf, 1950
632 pages
1950 bestseller # 4
My Grade: A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

War as ultimate test: Over the River and into the Trees

Over the River and into the Trees is a man’s novel.  Ernest Hemingway does not glorify war, but revels in it as an ultimate test of  combattants’ physical, mental, and emotional resources.

A war-scarred veteran of many battlefields and equally scarred victim of military bureaucracy, Colonel Richard Cantwell has come to Venice, his favorite Italian city, to do some duck hunting.

Cantwell is not a man who suffers fools gladly. At 50, he finds the only people with whom he actually is comfortable are people who have been through wars. He can be brusque or worse even to the beautiful Renata, the Italian countess with whom he has fallen deeply in love.

The Colonel passed an Army physical the day before his Venice trip, but he knows his days are numbered.

Renata knows too. She passes him the pills that keep him going and begs for stories of the experiences that shaped his life.

Cantwell tells her stories about the camaraderie of war and the colossal stupidity of military men with no experience of war. In every encounter, the bureaucrats win; the loyalty and discipline of military life won’t allow any other outcome.

That insight keeps this brooding, unhappy novel relevant to each new generation of readers.

Across the River and into the Trees
By Ernest Hemingway
Charles Scribner’s Sons,  1950
308 pages
1950 #3 bestselling novel
My grade B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni