Readers will still find entertainment in the 1927 bestsellers, but not much besides entertainment. There’s not one of the novels whose plot I can recall beyond a sentence summary, even though I enjoyed all of them but one of them when I read them.
Despite their less than memorable plots, three of the bestsellers are well-written character studies, each of which I may reread when I finish my year’s required reading.
A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield
Emma Downs is a Depression-Era Pharisee. Louis Bromfield’s A Good Woman lays her soul bare.
Emma lives by a strict religious code; she has no idea that it’s even possible for religion to be anything other than a list of do’s and do nots.
Bromfield makes clear on the jacket of the first edition that he saw America as full of women like Emma. He doesn’t treat her with scorn, but neither does he excuse her.
After reading Bromfield’s 1927 bestseller, readers may debate whether America has more or fewer good women today than it had 90 years ago — and whether any change is for the better.
Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep is also a study in personalities but one with a generous helping of satire. Wharton’s satire comes awfully close to sarcasm sometimes, leaving the impression that she really didn’t like her characters.
Twilight is a story of a the family of Pauline and Dexter Munford, well-off New Yorkers of the jazz age. Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world.
Pauline keeps herself well insulated from the unpleasant real world, hence the title which plays off the popular 1920’s name for the drug combination that was given during childbirth to provide pain relief and induce amnesia about any unpleasantness.
Unlike Bromfield, Wharton tells her story in such a way that that readers have to put the pieces together, almost as if they were reading a mystery.
When Wharton’s pieces come together, they go off like a bomb.
To-Morrow Morning by Anne Parish
Anne Parish’s To-morrow Morning is far gentler than the other two character studies. Her technique is more like Ferber’s than Bromfield’s: Parish makes readers work to piece together the story.
In To-morrow, Kate Starr, who becomes Kate Green, is a silly twit with a very modest talent for painting but neither ambition or discipline to do anything with such talent as she has.
Kate marries a man who is her mental and moral equal.
Having lost the money clients gave him to invest for them, Joe dies suddenly, thus escaping the consequences of his actions.
Creditors write off Joe’s debts in for “sweet Mrs. Green,” enabling Kate to avoid ever having to confront the consequences of Joe’s dishonesty.
Kate raises their son to be as undisciplined and purposeless as his parents.
If you have some time for reading, you’ll find any of these three 1927 bestsellers worth a couple evenings’ reading.
May 6, 2017 Corrected name of author of Twilight Sleep, which I had attributed to Edna Ferber in a blinding moment of stupidity while looking at the title page!