Rich Man, Poor Man: A story without a message

Irwin Shaw’s beguiling novel Rich Man, Poor Man will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime. It won’t, however, provide anything other than entertainment. Shaw looks at the lives of Rudolph, Gretchen and Thomas Jordache from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War. Their father, a German immigrant, killed to get […]

QB VII asks: What would you have done?

Leon Uris’s QB VII tackles antisemitism the way a terrier tackles a rat. Uris introduces readers to Dr. Adam Kelno as he leaves Jadweiga Concentration Camp. Soviet-dominated Warsaw has no place for a Polish Nationalist. Kelno lands in England where he spends two years in Brixton Prison while England decides whether to allow his extradition […]

Islands in the Stream: One man, three places

Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream is a three-part novel. Its sections are connected by characters and settings, but are totally different in tone. The first section, Bimini, introduces Thomas Hudson, a twice-divorced painter living happily with his personal devils by keeping to a rigid schedule for working and drinking. His three sons come to […]

Darkness at Noon peeks into Soviet Russia

“The cell door slammed behind Rubashov.” With those words, Arthur Koestler hurls readers into the life — and impending death — of ex-Commissar of the People Rubashov, a man so powerful and so invisible that his full name is needed for identification only on his cell door. Rubashov had been expecting, dreading arrest. He knows […]

Reread: A Daughter of the Land

As a rule, I don’t find much to like about Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels, but her 1918 bestseller, A Daughter of the Land, is head and shoulders above the rest. It’s one of the novels on my must-read-again list. Kate Bates, the daughter of the land, wants an share of her father’s property equal to that […]

Reread: The Silent Places

Of the nearly 700 novels I’ve reviewed here at Great Penformances, The Silent Places is the most memorable. The 1904 bestseller by Stewart Edward White is not a great novel—I didn’t give it an A rating the first time I read it—but just thinking about the novel’s ending is enough to bring tears to my […]

Love on the Dole: Doleful view of past and future

Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole is a bleak novel set in in industrial England in the years between the First and Second World Wars. The technological expertise that had made wholesale slaughter possible in 1914 is being directed toward making wholesale poverty possible in 1934. Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his […]