Daniel Martin: Introspection writ long

Daniel Martin is a bildungsroman in which little happens but much is thought by 40ish Daniel Martin whose Hollywood screenwriting job is at odds with his Oxford educated instincts.

Daniel is having an affair with an actress his daughter’s age.

Daniel goes home to England to see a university friend at his request.

Since university, Daniel had been estranged from Anthony and his wife, Jane, whom Daniel had loved during university and with whom he’d had sex once before she married Anthony and he married her sister, Nell.

Daniel improves relations with his daughter and Nell, now his ex-wife, and tries to restore his relationship with Jane. He also debates how to break up with Jenny.

Daniel Martin, like his creator, novelist John Fowles, is an intellectual, as are his friends from Oxford. They discuss ideas (with a capital I), analyze everything, but remain wrapped up in themselves.

Flashbacks initially make figuring out the intertwined relationships difficult.

After getting the dramatis personae sorted, the problem becomes remembering the references so you can follow Daniel’s growing up.

I’m sure if I read Daniel Martin again I’d rate it more highly: Fowles is literate and a brilliant word craftsman.

But I just don’t find Daniel interesting enough to bother.

Daniel Martin by John Fowles
Little, Brown ©1977 629 p.
1977 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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My Name is Asher Lev: Art for truth’s sake

As the title suggests, My Name is Asher Lev is related by Asher Lev, born in Brooklyn in 1943 to parents whose marriage united two prominent Hasidic families.

front dust-jacket of My Name is Asher Lev shows the artist at work.
What is Asher Lev thinking as he eyes a blank canvas?

Asher is a very sensitive child, but he cannot communicate his feelings except through art. His earliest playmates “are Eberhard and Crayola.”

Asher’s mother, an emotionally fragile woman, likes him to draw pretty birds and flowers.

Asher’s father, principled and highly disciplined, thinks art is at best a waste of time; at worst, it’s a violation of the Law.

Mr. Lev travels as a missionary/community organizer, setting up schools in Jewish communities in communist countries.

When Asher enters yeshiva, his mother enters college to study Russian so she can work with her husband in stead of waiting for him to return.

The Rebbe, a faceless figure at the periphery of Asher’s life, arranges for him to study art with the world’s most prominent Jewish artist.

Asher grows distant from his family even as he grows mature enough to understand why they view life as they do.

Chaim Potok’s characters are complicated, sometimes puzzling to themselves as well as to those around them.

In Asher Lev, as in The Chosen and The Promise, Potok writes straightforward prose that mutes profound meaning: I burst into tears after reading the novel’s last line.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Alfred A. Knopf, © 1972, 373 p.
1972 bestseller #9. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Drifters roots for the rootless

The Drifters is a big novel about six rootless young people and two much older men whose addresses are poste restante.

White, red and gold text on black are only elements on The Drifters dust jacket.
This copy of The Drifters has circulated.

Initially, it seems a surprising departure for James A. Michener, noted for big, place-based novels, such as Hawaii and The Source, but it becomes an exploration of how Vietnam-era youth became alienated from the societies in which they grew up and what it would take for them to put down roots.

The stories of the six young people are narrated by a 60-something financial deal maker for an insurance company. His work takes him around the world to find good investments.

Divorced and alienated from his own son, Mr. Fairbanks meets some of the youth in the course of his work and is introduced to the others through them.

Fairbanks introduces the young people to ex-Marine Harvey Holt, a communications technician who works in remote places, but comes every year to run with the bulls in Papaloma.

From the dust jacket descriptions, the young people bumming in Europe and North Africa sound like caricatures of ‘sixties figures. By showing Fairbanks’ efforts to understand them, Michener makes them feel very real.

Through The Drifters, I found myself understanding somewhat today’s right-wing youth who want their countries back.

The Drifters: A Novel by James A. Michener
Random House, ©1971, 751 p.
1971 bestseller #8. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Light in the Clearing still glows

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.

Scene from photoplay version of The Light in The Clearing

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

Coniston exposes power politics at the grassroots

Winston Churchill’s narrator confides right away that Conison is going to have two love stories and revolve mainly around the ungainly figure of Jethro Bass.

That description is like saying Moby Dick is about fishing.


Coniston by Winston Churchill

Florence Scovel Shinn, illus. MacMillan, 1906. 540 p. 1906 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #3766.
My grade B+.


In New Hampshire in the mid-1800s, uneducated, stuttering Jethro falls hard for Cynthia Ware.

Jethro Bass sits on a porch, hands in pockets, legs crossed,
Jethro Bass is a patient man.

Cynthia returns Jethro’s affection, but deplores his political ambition to rise above his station.

Though they part and marry others, each remains the other’s true love.

After Cynthia’s death, Jethro becomes friend to her husband and “Uncle Jethro” to the daughter with the mother’s name.

Jethro both loves and respects Cynthie, but will he give up his political power for her?

Will Cynthie hold to her principles or bend to win the man she loves?

Churchill works things out in proper romantic fashion, but not before he’s treated readers to a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse into grassroots politics (drawing, no doubt, on his experience as a New Hampshire legislator and candidate for governor.)

In Churchill’s pen, Jethro Bass becomes a figure as distinctive and memorable as any creation by Thomas Hardy or Anthony Trollope.

Coniston fairly begs to become a Masterpiece Theatre presentation.

Until it is (and afterward) read the print version.

It is a gem.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Sweet Seventeen captures summer romance

Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen is a frivolous, funny, and forgettable tale about awkward 17-year-old’s first romance.

Willy Baxter looks at himself in mirror
A view of his trousers makes Willy break out in perspiration.

Gawky William Sylvanus Baxter, called Willie by his family and “Silly Billy” by his friends, is smitten with the charms of blue-eyed Miss Pratt, who is visiting the Parchers for the summer.


Seventeen by Booth Tarkington

Arthur William Brown, Illus. Grosset & Dunlap, 1915. 1916 bestseller #1. My grade: C.


Willie  and his pals compete for Miss Pratt’s attentions, congregating on the  porch off Mr. Parcher’s study.

Miss Pratt’s blue eyes are about the only thing in her head. She converses in baby talk through the medium of her lap dog, Flopit,.

Miss Pratt’s baby talk and her serenading suitors offend Mr. Parcher’s ears.

Willie’s younger sister, Jane, accidentally overhears Mr. Parcher telling his wife to rid of the girl and her satellites, especially Willie.

Jane promptly brings the story home to her mother.

Seventeen’s turn of the century setting has a certain charm, but it can’t conceal the triviality of the plot or the shallowness of the characters.

One summer is too short for a teen as dense as Willie to learn anything from his experience.

Willie doesn’t grow up a bit in this novel, and readers are the poorer because of it.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Cinematic Beau Geste buried in novel’s details

1926-07_beaugesteThe French phrase beau geste refers to a gracious gesture that has unwelcome consequences.

It’s an apt title for P. C. Wren’s novel about British orphan lads with the surname Geste.


Beau Geste by P[ercival] C[hristopher] Wren

J. B. Lippincott. 412 p. 1926 bestseller #7. My grade: C+


Michael “Beau” Geste, a natural leader; his twin brother, Digby; and their younger brother John are reared by their aunt, Lady Patricia,  in upper class comfort at Brandon Abbas.

When a precious jewel known as the “Blue Water” disappears, suspicion falls on the boys.

Beau takes off to join the French Foreign Legion, followed separately by Digby and John.

Having pledged themselves to serve France, they refuse to join a mutiny against the despicable Sergeant Lejaune that is prevented only by an Arab attack.

Only John survives the desert ordeal, returning to England where the mystery of the jewel theft is revealed.

Wren makes clear that Geste boys represent an entire class of British who do “the right thing” regardless of consequences: In the world war just ended and the one coming soon, such boys are the heroes of the Empire.

You might want to view the film version of this novel. Beau Geste is a rip-snorter of a mystery-adventure tale, but pages of detail bury the excitement.

The plot, however, is admirably suited to film presentation where an image can reveal 40 pages of detail.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni