The Awakening of Helena Richie joins orphan to widow

When Dr. Lavendar needs a home for orphan David Allison, he thinks the 7-year-old might be good for young, pretty widow, Helena Richie, newly arrived in Old Chester.

Sam Wright, son of Mrs. Richie’s landlord, thinks Mrs. Richie might be good for him. At 23, “Sam’s Sam” is ready to fall in love with anything or anyone not from Old Chester.


The Awakening of Helena Richie by Margaret Deland

1906 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg eBook #6315. My grade: A-.


David is good for Helena. He likes her well enough, though not as much as he likes Dr. Lavendar. Here are the two in conversation:

“That is a Bible picture,” Dr. Lavendar observed.
“Who,” said David, “is the gentleman in the water?”
Dr. Lavendar blew his nose before answering. Then he said that that was meant to be our Saviour when He was being baptized. “Up in the sky,” Dr. Lavendar added, “is His Heavenly Father.”
There was silence until David asked gently, “Is it a good photograph of God?”

David intensely dislikes Mrs. Richie’s widowed brother, Mr. Pryor, whose occasional, brief visits are too long and too frequent for David’s liking.

Margaret Deland makes her characters pop off the page. Even the most disreputable of them has some virtues, and the most virtuous has some flaws.

Helena’s best features, unfortunately, are skin deep: She’s neither bright nor perceptive.  You’ll have to read the novel to learn about her flaws.

The Old Chester community becomes the real story.

An A- is too high a grade for this book, but Helena’s spiritual awakening is believable, which is almost unheard of in a religious novel.

And David may be the funniest, serious, little boy to appear between the covers of a book.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Hucksters empty tale of empty life

As World War II winds down, Victor Norman resigns his military propaganda job.

A New York ad agency hires him to handle the Beaute Soap account.


The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman

Rinehart, 1946. 307 p. 1946 bestseller # 5. My Grade: C-.


Beaute Soap CEO Evan Evans, is a cruel, controlling, old coot whose only joy in life (aside from selling soap) is making people’s lives miserable.

Vic finds he loathes advertising and radio.

He’s not particularly interested in money either.

Vic doesn’t really know what he wants.

All goes well until Vic falls for Kay Dorrance, a rich, sexy woman with two children who is waiting for her husband to come home. Vic becomes sugar daddy to the kids and bedfellow to their mother.

Vic wants Kay to divorce her husband and marry him. He’ll need a bigger salary to support her and the kids.

Vic’s need for money gives Evans a way to control him.

Vic sees himself poised to become a huckster like the people around him.

Will he fall?

Will readers care if he does?

Frederic Wakeman’s novel is as much a piece of hucksterism as any commercial.

The plot is complex and subtle as a billboard, the characters no more than billboard-deep.

In fact, if you strung together a series of billboards, you’d have as good a novel as The Hucksters.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Certain Smile superficial as lip gloss

Françoise Sagan published her first bestseller at 18, then repeated the feat at 20 with A Certain Smile.

The novel is presumed to show how young people view the world.


A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan

Trans. by Anne Green. E.P. Dutton, 1956. 128 pp. My grade: C-.


cover of paaerback that includes Francoise Sagan's first two published novelsI suspect it was the youthfulness of the author rather than the brilliance of the novel that was the selling point.

As the story opens, Dominique is involved with a fellow Sorbonne student, Bertrand, who she finds boring outside of bed.

Bertrand introduces her to his uncle and aunt.

The aunt, a warm, motherly figure, becomes her friend.

The uncle, Luc, becomes her lover.

They spend two weeks together at a Cannes hotel, returning to Paris to find Luc’s wife has learned of their affair.

Dominique knows Luc does not love her, that he merely uses her, but that doesn’t stop her from loving him — or at least from wanting him as her primary sexual partner.

Dominique’s real passion is Dominique.

She wants the world to revolve around her, but she is so shallow the world alternately uses her and pities her.

Folks older and wiser than Dominque will make a wide detour around this novel.

If Sagan speaks for youth, the world’s in deep do-do.

 © 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Felix O’Day mysteriously freshens biblical plot

Who is the middle-aged, British gent who says he’s too broke to pay his rent?

The one who looks for someone each night among patrons of Broadway’s theaters and restaurants?


Felix O’ Day by F. Hopkinson Smith

Project Gutenberg ebook #5229. 1915 bestseller #7. My grade: B.


It’s Felix O Day.

The novel of which Felix is titular character is a romance that derives its interest mainly from the Felix’s mysterious behavior.

While Felix is negotiating a loan at a secondhand  shop, he tells owner Otto Kling some of his merchandise is undervalued. Impressed, Otto asks Felix to come work for him.

Otto arranges for Felix to room across the street with Kitty and John Cleary, who own a moving company.

It’s a happy arrangement.

Felix mostly enjoys the work.

He is charmed by Maisie, Otto’s 10-year-old daughter.

He learns to know and value Kitty and the other Fourth Street business owners.

One day an unexpected discovery leads Felix to share his secret with the local priest, Father Cruse. That, and advice from Kitty, lead to a happy ending.

Felix O’Day kept me up past my bedtime. Though the parable of the lost sheep post’s familiar,  author F. Hopkinson Smith makes Felix, with his inbred class-consciousness, sufficiently human to make it feel fresh.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bombs Land Close to Home in Dangerous Days

Mary Roberts Rinehart opens Dangerous Days with a boring dinner party hosted by an American steel manufacturer and his wife.

The year is 1916.

Europe is on the verge of destruction.

Natalie and Clayton Spencer are on the edge of domestic destruction.

WWI soldiers fire a machine gun
Machine gunners at the Battle of the Somme

Clay has brought son, Graham, into his steel business at the bottom, much to Natalie’s dismay. She wants her boy to have the best even if it destroys him.

Clay wants a woman’s love but not at the price of his moral destruction.

Clay is sure America will be in the war soon.

Graham and his father realize — though they don’t say it to each other — that Graham may escape moral destruction only by volunteering to die.

Rinehart follows the bored people around the opening chapter dinner table through to Armistice Day, revealing them to be anything but boring. She masterfully combines deft characterizations, historical episodes such as the communists’ helping American draft-dodgers escape into Mexico, and intricate plots within her main plot.

There’s a certain flag-waving bravado about the novel — all the characters but Natalie do their bit in the war — but the complexity of the characters and the realness of their confusions make this page-turner a novel you won’t soon forget.

Dangerous Days
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1919 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg e-book #1693
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Little French Girl Is Exquisitely Bi-cultural

Jacket of novel The Little French Girl
The Little French Girl is a novel that needs to be peeled, layer by layer, like a sweet onion. Reading it requires alertness and either some French or a good French dictionary.

The story opens with Alix Vervier being met at Victoria Station by Giles Owen. Madame Vervier, presuming on a war-time acquaintance with Giles’ deceased brother, has sent Alix to England to find a suitable marriage partner.

At 15, Alix has childish innocence at odds with her acute perceptivity. She immediately likes Giles and the late Capt. Owen’s fiancée, Topee.

The rest of the noisy, sports crazy Owen family take some getting used to.

The novel follows Alix as she tries to be an obedient French daughter without offending her English hosts who find the idea of a parent arranging a child’s marriage unthinkable.

A summary can’t do this exquisite, lavendar-gray novel justice. Anne Douglas Sedgwick makes Alix’s growth from precocious teen to sensitive adult unfold as naturally as a flower coming into bloom, even though the growth process is painful for Alix, her French family, and her English hosts.

The Little French Girl
By Anne Douglas Sedgwick
Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
508 pages
1924 bestseller #3
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni