The Establishment: Hurtling through history

The Establishment is the last novel in Howard Fast’s trilogy about the family of Dan Lavette, the son of an immigrant fisherman who made and lost two fortunes.

Front dust jacket of The Establishment is a collage of scenes from the novel
An unfocused collage fits the novel

Here, as in Second Generation, Fast focuses on Dan’s daughter Barbara who married a Jewish soldier of fortune.

Barbara’s writing produces a good income without her touching her inheritance.

Bernie operates a garage. He works very hard, barely turns a profit, and is bored.

Bernie jumps at the chance to fly planes to Israel to prepare the new nation for a forthcoming war against Arab countries with established armies.

He’s killed in Israel.

Reporting Barbara did from Nazi Germany brings her to the attention of the McCarthy hearings.

She’s sentenced to six months in a federal prison for women.

Meanwhile, Barbara’s brother Tom is becoming a power broker, part of the wealthy establishment men who select the people whom Americans will elect by popular vote to run the country.

Fast’s novels cry out for video treatment: The main characters are merely sketched, there are swift scene changes, and the historical context has been lost in the intervening 40 years.

Masterpiece could make Fast’s novels come alive.

Fast merely makes them hurtle through history.

The Establishment by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 337 p.
1979 bestseller #08 My grade: B

©2018 Linda G. Aragoni

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Evergreen but forgetable

Evergreen follows Anna Friedman, a beautiful, red-headed Polish Jew, who comes to America alone as a teenager in the early 1900s.

Cover illustration for Evergreen shows Anna and a mansion in the center and two men on other side of them.
Symbolically, elements on Evergreen‘s cover don’t touch.

Anna works in a factory, learns English, reads and studies until she’s able to get work as a maid in a home of an upper crust banking family. There she falls for the son, Paul Werner.

Anna marries another poor immigrant, Joseph Friedman, who has little use for formal education but a great capacity for learning. He sees a fortune to be made in building.

When times get rough, Joseph sends Anna to appeal to the Werners for a loan. Anna gets the loan and a child by Paul.

The rest of the novel follows Anna and the next three generations of her family up to the 1970s.

Evergreen feels more like linked short stories than a novel. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. Bella Plain was a popular short story writer before Evergreen, her first novel.

Plain’s characters are complex enough for a short story, but not for a novel. She doesn’t show characters growing; she only shows they have changed.

History, too, is relegated to scene changes. Even the holocaust in Evergreen appears antiseptic.

Evergreen is decent entertainment, free of lurid detail, but totally forgettable.

Evergreen by Bella Plain
Delacorte Press, c1978. 593 p.
1978 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Scruples: A novel about folks without them

Judith Krantz’s novel Scruples is an immorality tale about the sex lives of the super rich and the sycophants who use them.

All-text cover with Krantz'a name in large red type, Scruples in white handwritten type, all on black backround.
Scruples’ content is about as original as its cover.

“Billy” Ikehorn, one of the Boston Winthrop’s poor relations, blossoms into a glamorous, sexy woman during a year in Paris.

A year’s study at Katherine Gibbs lands her a secretarial job at Ikehorn Industries and marriage at age 21 to multimillionnaire Ellis Ikehorn, nearly 40 years her senior.

After his death, Billy is no longer the center of anyone’s world.

To compensate, she builds Scruples, a store where the super-rich can get anything they want and nothing they need.

Billy knows zilch about retailing.

Within six months, the store is already failing.

Billy is tricked into hiring a dress designer and photographer, both talented unknowns, to turn things around.

By contrast to Billy, who is just another self-centered rich girl with a father fixation, the characters in the supporting roles are complex personalities with jobs more interesting than anything in the plot.

Krantz has each of the main characters’ lives turn out right—financially and sexually— in the end.

Krantz writes well enough to be a commercial success, but Scruples is a waste of her talent.

Scruples is drivel.

Scruples by Judith Krantz
Crown, ©1978 [Book Club ed]. 478 p.
1978 bestseller #5. My grade: C

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

War and Remembrance

Night bombing is symbolic dust jacket cover for  Herman Wouk's"War and Remembrance."
Night time bombings are memorable part of WWII.

Herman Wouk called War and Remembrance a historical romance, a description that barely touches what’s packed into its 3.5 pounds and 1,039 pages.

Wouk picks up the story of an American naval family—Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three adult children—whom he introduced seven years earlier in The Winds of War.

This novel follows them from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. Wouk uses their stories to transport readers into the wake of war around the globe.

Pug wins promotions, but spends most of his time trying to unsnarl problems abroad at the behest of Roosevelt.

Pug and Rhoda’s eldest son is killed in action, leaving behind a wife and son.

While son Byron serves on submarines in the Pacific, his Jewish wife and their infant son become trapped in Poland.

Rhoda takes a lover, considers divorce.

Pug falls in love; the war continually pulls Pug and Pamela in different directions.

Wouk says frankly his purpose is to show that war must end. He’s too talented a writer to need to preach: His stories preach for him.

To understand War and Remembrance you need not have read Winds but you’ll appreciate both more if you read them as a set.

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown, ©1978. 1042 p.
1978 bestseller #2. My grade: A+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Lonely Lady is alliterative, not accurate

The title character of The Lonely Lady, JeriLee Randall, is a lady only for alliterative purposes.

closeup of a sexy blonde with half her face in shadow
She looks better than she is.

For all other purposes she’s, at best, a slut.

JeriLee is beautiful and brilliant, as are all Harold Robbins’ protagonists unless they are men, in which case they are handsome and brilliant.

JeriLee is a small town girl who wants to be a writer. She marries a writer. They divorce.

JeriLee lacks the business savvy and connections to make it as a writer on her own.

She falls back on acting, then on dancing, finally ends up in a nude review.

She drinks heavily and uses drugs. Although she’s not selling drugs, she gets caught when the guy with whom she’s living gets caught dealing.

She ends up in a mental institution, from which she’s rescued by the police detective who arrested her. Surprisingly, she neither marries him nor has sex with him.

What she does is write a screenplay that wins an Academy Award and lets a stoned JeriLee tell off the world as the TV cameras role.

Robbins is a great storyteller, but his stories aren’t worthy of his talent.

With Lady, as always with Robbins’ novels, I had forgotten the title character’s name within 15 minutes of laying down the book.

The Lonely Lady by Harold Robbins
Pocket Books ©1976 [paper] 421 p.
1976 bestseller #8. My grade: C+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Two from Galilee: A Love Story

All-text cover of Two From Galilee touts Marjorie Holmes' book "I've Got to Talk to Somebody, God"
Cover art wasn’t what drew readers to “Two from Galilee.”

In Two from Galilee, novelist Marjorie Holmes pieces together a plausible but saccharine story to cover what is known from the gospel records about Mary and Joseph, the parents of the Christ Child.

Holmes fills in the pages thanks to a good imagination supported by research into Jewish customs of the time.

Mary is the prettiest, most sought-after girl in town. Her parents are poor, but they expect Mary to marry above her station. Joseph wouldn’t be their choice: His family isn’t prosperous enough for their Mary.

Joseph is a handsome, hardworking young man, some half dozen years her senior. In love with Mary since they were children, he’s been waiting for her to grow up.

Joseph’s father, a wood worker, is slipshod about completing work on time if the job doesn’t interest him; as a result, his family is even poorer than Mary’s.

Mary can twist her father around her little finger—and does—to get her parents to accept Joseph as her bridegroom.

When she’s later found to be pregnant, she goes off to spend time with her relative Elizabeth, who has conceived her first born late in life.

Reading Two From Galilee won’t do anyone any harm, but its not likely to do anyone much good either.

Two from Galilee: A Love Story by Marjorie Holmes
Revell [1972] 223 p.
1972 bestseller #8. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Secret Woman: Implausible diversion

Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman is an old-fashioned mystery story arising from the Victorian aristocrats’ need for a male heir carry on the line.

Dust jacket of The Secret Woman
Book Club Edition dust jacket

The leading lady is Anna Brett, a orphan in the care of an eccentric maiden aunt who buys but rarely sells antique furniture in an English seaport dominated by the Crediton shipping firm.

When her aunt dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving an-all-but bankrupt business, Anna gets a job as governess Castle Crediton. She owes her job to Chantel Loman who had come to nurse Aunt Charlotte and became Anna’s confidant.

It’s Chantel who sees Anna has fallen hard for the Crediton’s bastard son, Captain Redvers Stretton, about whom dark things are hinted.

Chantel, who had become nurse to Captain Stretton’s disturbed wife, seems more interested in Rex Crediton, the acknowledged son and heir to the family’s fortune.

Lady Crediton plans for Rex to marry the daughter of a competing firm, effectively merging the two.

The Secret Woman contains only nice, appropriately Victorian upper-class murders: no blood in sight, no police on the premises.

Holt keeps the story moving so readers don’t think too hard about the multiple implausibilities in the story until after they’ve finished the tale.

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, ©1970, Book Club Edition, 374 p.
1970 bestseller #8. My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni