The Midlander Draws Plot From Characters

In The Midlander*, Booth Tarkington creates a set of distinctive characters whose behavior weaves a plot that feels inevitable.

From childhood, the Oliphant brothers are uncongenial. Harlan Oliphant is an aloof aristocrat, respectable and responsible; his younger brother, Dan, is a rumpled democrat, popular and aimless.

Tarkington embeds the Oliphant brothers’ story in the setting of the rise of America’s great manufacturing cities in the two decades before World War I.

Harlan falls for the girl next door; Martha cares only for Dan, who considers her just a good pal.

When Dan chooses a city girl instead of Martha, his grandmother changes her will in favor of Harlan, whom she dislikes, rather than let Dan waste her fortune.

Dan impulsively becomes a real estate developer, planning to make a fortune in 10 years or so when Midland would have grown big enough to reach his Ornaby Addition.

Dan’s wife, Lena, makes no attempt to fit in with his plans. She is bitterly jealous of Martha.

Dan never wavers from his vision, never grows beyond his 20-year-old self as everyone else around him changes in more or less subtle ways.

Despite the novel’s complexity, Tarkington’s lean prose here makes The Midlander both entertaining and rewarding reading.


*Tarkington published the first edition of The Midlander in 1924, wrapping up a set of three novels which he brought out in a single volume under the name Growth in 1927. In Growth, Tarkington changed the name The Midlander to National Avenue. National Avenue appears as the final work in that volume. The other novels in the trilogy are The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and The Turmoil (1915)


The Midlander*
By Booth Tarkington
Pages 591-887 of Growth
1924 bestseller #7
My grade: A-

©2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Funny Literal Kids Make Laddie Sparkle

Laddie is the pride and joy of the Stanton family and hero to his youngest sister, who tells his story.

When Laddie asks Little Sister to deliver a letter to a Princess in the big wood, she discovers Laddie has fallen for a English lovely girl just moved to the neighborhood. Little Sister approves of the courtship, although her mother doesn’t.

Pamela Pryor’s family got off to a bad start with their God-fearing neighbors in the 1900s mid-west farming community. They think the English newcomers are heathen.

With Little Sister’s help, Laddie’s romance prospers and the Pryor family brought into the good graces of the community.

The plot is hackneyed and the main characters straight off the shelf, but the minor characters and minor incidents are jewels.

Although Gene Stratton-Porter imbues Little Sister with a child’s literal mind, no one would ever think the writing was by an elementary school child.

Nor is the story written for children. Stratton-Porter is talking to adults about how to live out Biblical principles in everything from showing hospitality to environmentally friendly farming practices.

Part romance, part morality play, Laddie escapes being saccharine because Little Sister and her older brother Leon are funny kids.

Laddie:  A True Blue Story
by Gene Stratton-Porter
Grosset & Dunlap, 1913
541 pages
1913 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg ebook # 286
My Grade B-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

1941 bestselling novels list

Of the novels that topped the 1941 bestseller list, the two that are probably best remembered today are James Hilton’s Random Harvest and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. At the risk of ruining the suspense, I’ll state now that For Whom the Bell Tolls was, and remains, superior to Random Harvest.

The top 10 list contains a couple of gems beside the Hemingway novel.  Get out your library card and see if you can’t uncover them.  Dates you can expect to see my reviews are in parens.

The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (30-Apr-2011)
Random Harvest by James Hilton (7-May-2011)
This Above All by Eric Knight (14-May-2011)
The Sun Is My Undoing by Marguerite Steen (21-May-2011)
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (28-May-2011)
Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts (4-Jun-2011)
H. M. Pulham, Esquire by John P. Marquand (11-Jun-2011)
Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy Marriage by Isabel Scott Rorick (18-Jun-2011)
Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber (25-Jun-2011)
Windswept by Mary Ellen Chase (2-Jul-2011)