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Archive for the ‘Social criticism’ Category

woman dressed like music hall dancer on cover of Daughter of the Land

This isn’t Kate Bates.

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 he gave his sons. She doesn’t get it.

Nor will her father let her pursue a teaching certificate that might allow her to earn money to buy the farm she wants. So Kate takes matters into her own hands.

Unlike most of Stratton-Porter’s leading characters, Kate seems like a real person.

She wants a 200-acre farm and a fashionable hat, too.

Woman wearing embroidered dress is on this cover of Daughter of the Land.

This isn’t Kate Bates either.

She doesn’t just have set-backs.

She totally messes up and creates her own misfortunes.

She develops a tough hide and retains a warm heart.

The artists who designed these covers for A Daughter of the Land never read the novel.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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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.

Man and woman with infant are on cover of Love on the Dole.

Cover of 1976 paperback version of Love on the Dole

Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his parents’ advice, Harry apprentices himself at the Marlowe manufacturing plant for seven years.

Harry sees badge #2510 as his ticket to training and a high-paying job as an engineer.

He learns there’s no training, no ticket to upward mobility.

When he finishes his apprenticeship, he learns one more thing: There’s no job.

With a wife and child to support, Harry does what he has to.

He joins the line of the unemployed.

Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.Love on the Dole lacks the rounded character development we expect in today’s novels, and the dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but those deficiencies only add to Greenwood’s picture of how the deck is stacked against ordinary men in the age of increasingly intelligent machines.

Here’s a passage in which 14-year-old Harry consults the Marxist labor organizer when he first senses Marlowe’s has no intention of training him for a career:

‘You’re part of a graft, Harry,’ [Larry Meath] said: ‘All Marlowe’s want is cheap labour; and the apprentice racket is one of their ways of getting it. Nobody’ll teach you anything simply because there’s so little to be learnt. You’ll pick up all you require by asking questions and watching others work. You see, all this machinery’s being more simplified year after year until all it wants is experienced machine feeders and watchers. Some of the new plant doesn’t even need that. Look in the brass-finishing shop when you’re that way. Ask the foreman to show you that screw-making machine. That can work twenty-four hours a day without anybody going near it. Your apprenticeship’s a swindle, Harry. The men they turn out think they’re engineers same as they do at all the other places, but they’re only machine minders. Don’t you remember the women during the war?’

‘What women?’ Harry asked, troubled by what Larry had said.

‘The women who took the places of the engineers who’d all served their time. The women picked up straightaway what Marlowe’s and the others say it takes seven year’s apprenticeship to learn,’ a wry smile: ‘Still, if you want to be what everybody calls an “engineer”, you’ve no choice but to serve your seven years. I hear that they’re considering refusing to bind themselves in contracting to provide seven years’ employment. There is a rumour about that there aren’t to be any more apprentices. You see, Harry, if they don’t bind themselves, as they have to do in the indentures, they can clear the shop of all surplus labour when times are bad. And things are shaping that way, now,” a grin: ‘You’ve no need to worry, though. You’ve seven years’ employment certain.’

What is most striking about Love on the Dole is now much it feels like 2017 America. If Harry lived in Pennsylvania today, he would be a Trump supporter.

Love on the Dole will let you experience the pain and anger that fuels them.

It may well also foretell what’s ahead in America in the next 20 years.

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood
©Walter Greenwood, 1933; published by Johnathan Cape
My copy: Penguin Books Ltd., 1976; paperback, 254 pp.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Let’s get right to the point.

Cover shows naked woman tally marks in lipstick

The cover tells the tale.

Penelope Ashe’s novel Naked Came the Stranger is trash.

As story opens Gillian Blake, co-host of radio show Billy & Gilly, has just learned via the services of Ace-High Private Investigators, Inc., that Billy is having an affair with the show’s recently hired assistant producer.

Gilly is incensed.

It was not simply that William Blake had made a mockery of her marriage. Even worse he had made a mockery of her radio show.

Divorce is unthinkable: According to the polls, what attracts the listeners is their belief that the Blakes have the ideal marriage.

Her fans believe, as Gilly observes, “The family that stays together, stays together.”

Gilly decides to get back at William by having affairs with other women’s husbands and breaking up their marriages.

The next 230 pages describe psychologically, anatomically, and physiologically how Gilly goes about it.

The novel has only one good but not redeeming feature: It was set in Baskerville type, which is better than the book deserves.

It deserves Comic Sans.

Naked Came the Stranger by Penelope Ashe
Lyle Stuart, 1969. 255 p. 1969 bestseller #7. My Grade: D.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Female gender symbol fills front cover of The Love Machine

The Love Machine is a novel that’s not afraid to be noticed.

The Love Machine has a lot of action, most of which occurs in beds. Nevertheless, it’s a far better novel than I expected from the author of the appalling Valley of the Dolls.

The alpha male in the novel is Robin Stone, who comes out of TV news and pushes his way to temporarily dominate a TV network.

There are lots of women in the novel, Amanda, Maggie, and Judith being the three who lend their names to the novel’s sections.

Amanda, the blonde, dies.

Maggie, the brunette, goes into films.

I don’t remember Judith’s hair color or what happens to her. By the time she appeared, I’d lost what little interest I’d had in Robin’s sex partners.

The most interesting part of the novel is the mystery of why Robin dislikes brunettes.

Under hypnosis, Robin learns he is adopted; his dark-haired German mother was a prostitute who was murdered by a customer.

After his foster mother dies, Robin tries to find his real family, but he can’t find any of her relatives.

Whether Robin sorted out his childhood trauma, readers never learn.

Susann wraps up the novel with the consummate expertise of a writer who won the Best Dressed Woman in Television Award four times.

The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann
Grove Press, 1969. paper. 511 p. 1968 bestseller #3. My grade: C+.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaint

Complaint in plain wrapper.

Alexander Portnoy, Assistant Human Opportunity Commissioner for New York City, is a psychological mess, and it’s all his parent’s fault.

At least that’s what he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, in Philip Roth’s aptly named Portnoy’s Complaint.

Alex suffers from stereotypes.

He’s the brilliant and personable only son of a New Jersey Jewish couple. Alex’s eighth-grade educated father slaves for a Protestant insurance company, selling life insurance in the black slums. His mother cooks, cleans, kvetches.

Alex grew up being alternately praised to the hilt and told he was a disgrace to his family.

At 33 he’s still unmarried. His professional life is devoted to doing good for others.

His nonprofessional life is devoted to activities discussed primarily in four-letter words.

Alex’s monologue mixes exaggeration with self-deprecation. His occasional flashes of insight are masked with jokes.

He tells his shrink, “I hear myself indulging in the kind of ritualized bellyaching that is just what gives psychoanalytic patients such a bad name with the general public.”

Roth’s novel is genuinely funny, but as he lets Alex makes readers laugh, he makes them see how emotionally frail Alex is.

Roth’s technical skill and his humanity — plus the final punch line — combine to produce a hopeful portrait of a damaged man.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Random House, 1969. 274 p. 1969 bestseller #1 My grade: A

 

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Eponymous Myra Breckrenridge is as repellent a character as you’d ever not want to meet.

And she’s absolutely fascinating.

Photo collage of dictators with overprint.

Myra believes her life mission is to realign the sexes.

Gore Vidal presents Myra’s story as her confidences in her diary, written as therapy on the urging of her dentist and analyst, Randolph.

Myra is in Hollywood to attempt to get money she believes owed to her by Buck Loner, her late husband Myron’s uncle. Buck had built a flourishing acting school on land willed jointly to him and his late sister, Myron’s mother.

Buck says he’ll get his lawyer on it; meanwhile, he invites Myra to join his faculty to teach courses in Empathy and Posture.

Myra and Buck set out to swindle each other without dropping the pose of family bonding.

Myra for 20 of her 27 years in imagination cast herself as a the female lead in films she saw while growing up.

But Myra doesn’t want the subservient roles: Myra hates men, and she’s determined to dominate them.

Despite his heavy hand with satire, Vidal makes the transgender Myra believable and human.

I didn’t like Myra the person or Myra the novel, but I felt I did something necessary and respectful just by exposing myself to Myra’s perspective.


Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal
Little, Brown, [1968] 264 p. 1968 bestseller #7. My grade: A-.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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runway is central element on dust jacket of AirportI read Airport in two big gulps two days ago.

Tonight I can scarcely remember the plot or the characters’ names, but the details are still vivid.

In Airport, Arthur Hailey weaves together several plots whose characters happen to be in a particular place, just as he did in Hotel.

In this case, the scene is the fictitious Lincoln International Airport in the overnight hours during a blizzard.

The story focuses primarily on Mel Bakersfeld, the airport’s general manager, who has a rocky marriage, a brother whose air controller job is pushing him toward suicide, and an aging airport no longer capable of meeting the demands of aviation in the post-JFK era.

Hailey works in a couple of plots, one quite implausible, to make the point that airports are dangerously inadequate from a safety perspective.

Hailey tackles the stereotypes about pilots and stewardesses with a story line about one such duo for whom Hailey can’t seem to muster much liking.

What Hailey does marvelously, however, is relay the nuts-and-bolts details of the unseen jobs — the maintenance crews, the ticket counter staff, the air traffic controllers — so readers feel like they are looking over their shoulders as they work.

Airport is worth reading just for that.


Airport by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, 1968. 440 p. 1968 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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