The Moneychangers gives good value

If you’ve read Hotel, Airport, or Wheels, you’ll be familiar with Arthur Hailey’s technique of merging a fictional story with exposition of how large organization works.

The O in the word Moneychangers holds a man in in front of a bank vault.
The Moneychangers is about who gets access to a bank vaults.

The Moneychangers applies that formula to the operation of a big bank but, since banks have changed less since the mid-20th century than airports or the auto industry, Moneychangers has more contemporary feel.

The story opens opens with Alex Vandervoort and Roscoe Heyward competing for the presidency of First Mercantile American Bank.

The two men have very different assessments of what banks should do. For Roscoe, it’s all about shareholder profits; for Alex it’s about making reasonable profit while serving communities.

Split evenly between the candidates, the bank board puts one of its members in the presidency, leaving Alex and Roscoe as vice presidents.

Hailey does his usual thorough job explaining banking operations while telling a story. And he keeps the subplots exciting and relevant.

The leading characters are each well-developed, individually interesting. They argue about the future of banking, including about how long it will be before the American economy collapses under its weight of debt, and about ethics.

And they make the arguments matter.

Thus, The Moneychangers manages to be both easy reading and valuable reading.

The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday [1975] 436 p.
1975 bestseller #2. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

This Side of Innocence made riveting by unlikeable people

Taylor Caldwell sets This Side of Innocence in the era of bustles and Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, but this odd tale of a dysfunctional family packs all the punch of a Netflix® drama.

Seeking happiness, the characters try the old standbys—sex, fulfilling work, filial duty—and still there’s something missing.


This Side of Innocence by Taylor Caldwell

Scribner’s 1946. 499 p. 1946 bestseller #2 .My grade A-.


After his son opts for a life of profligacy, a widowed banker adopts a cousin, Alfred Lindsey, as his heir.

When it appears Alfred may marry, Jerome comes back to the family home.

Unable to stop Alfred’s marriage, Jerome experiences a sudden desire to go into banking. Soon, he finds he like banking almost as much as he likes Alfred’s wife, Amilie.

When Amilie becomes pregnant by Jerome, Alfred divorces her.

Amilie marries Jerome.

They all live unhappily ever after.

The qualities that put This Side of Innocence on the 1946 bestseller list are untarnished by time.

The unusual plot is peopled by fascinating—though not likable—characters with complex and often confused motives.

Caldwell adds insightful musings on timeless themes like love, integrity, and tact.

The result is a novel with real staying power.

Look for it at your local library.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Within This Present Proves Need for Challenges

granny retro250Margaret Ayer Barnes, who published the haunting Years of Grace to popular and critical acclaim in 1930, pleased her public again in 1934 with Within This Present.

Both novels follow a character from the cusp of womanhood through midlife, allowing readers to live through a slice of history from a domestic perspective.

The woman in Within This Present is Sally Sewall, a girl from a wealthy, close-knit Chicago banking family. At 19, she marries Alan MacLeod before he goes off to the Western Front.

Alan sees only five days of fighting. He comes home feeling cheated of the opportunity to do something that matters.

When Sally says she’s pregnant, Alan says perhaps being a father is what matters. Alan goes to work in the Sewall family’s bank.

Ten years later, Alan becomes involved with a woman in their set. He and Sally are living apart in 1929 when the bank fails. The family crisis predictably brings them back together.

Although Within This Present is an entertaining and enlightening novel, Barnes lets Granny Sewall talk from beginning to end about how young people need challenges to show what they’re made of. Sadly, even dear, sweet Granny’s sermons grow dull with repetition.

Within This Present
By Margaret Ayer Barnes
Houghton Mifflin, 1933
611 pages
1934 bestseller #5

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Granny Retro by unknown photographer

Mississippi Bubble Better at Finance Than at Fiction

The Mississippi Bubble is a long rambling tale whose hero, John Law, is a 17th century gambler, philosopher, and financier. He captivates women, explores the American wilderness, braves mobs, advises governments, and grows corn.

The main plot line is man finds girl, man loses girl, man regains girl.  Hough pads the basic plot to obese proportions. Some of the historical content, such as the death of Louis XIV, and scene descriptions, such as a storm on Lake Michigan, are powerful, but they are largely extraneous to the plot.

About halfway through novel, to propitiate the Great Spirit, vengeful Iroquois send one of its characters over Niagara Falls in a canoe. It’s unfortunate that author Emerson Hough didn’t send the rest of the characters over to propitiate vengeful readers already weary of flat characters and subplots that go nowhere.

John Law at French Court

On the whole, there’s more illumination than entertainment for readers in The Mississippi Bubble. Odd as it seems, the novel’s value lies primarily in its simple explanation of fiscal concepts such as national debt, monetary policy, and the relationship of government to the banking industry.

The Mississippi Bubble: How the Star of Good Fortune Rose and Set and Rose Again, by a Woman’s Grace,  for One John Law of Laurison
by Emerson Hough
Illus. Henry Hutt
1902 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg eBook #14001
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Point of No Return Makes Gray Vivid

Investment banker Charles Gray is not a man to take chances. He believes in preserving assets— emotional assets as well as financial ones.

In The Point of No Return, John P. Marquand explores the one time in his life when Charles almost stepped out of character.

When the book opens, Charles is waiting to hear whether he or Roger Blakesley will be tapped for the bank’s vacant vice presidency.

When the bank sends him to his hometown to check on collateral offered by a loan applicant, Charles reviews the youthful experiences that shaped him. His fear of taking risks is  at least partially due to his father’s stock speculation and suicide in 1929.

When he gets to Clyde, Charles sees that his childhood best friend has climbed to the top of the local social and political power structure.

While Clyde views Charles as a successful New York banker, Charles realizes he is small potatoes in the Manhattan financial scene. He’s been careful and obsequious, but that’s not enough to guarantee success in a corporation.

Marquand is so skilled a writer that he makes an entertaining novel out of experiences that didn’t excite even their participants.

You won’t remember Point of No Return long, but you won’t be bored while you’re reading it.

 
The Point of No Return
By John P. Marquand
Little, Brown 1949
559 pages
1949 Bestseller # 5
My Grade: B
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

From the Terrace Is Downhill All the Way

John O’Hara is a fine writer, but he wrote some boring books. From the Terrace is one of them.

The novel is about Alfred Eaton, second son of a small Pennsylvania industrialist. Alfred makes his mark as an investment banker, then serves as an undersecretary of the Navy during World War II. Along the way he has two wives, three children, and numerous affairs.

At 50, after nearly hemorrhaging to death, Alfred retires to a terrace in California to consider his options. He could work for someone else or start his own business.

He does neither. Instead, he lives off his investments and does favors for people who know he has time on his hands.

O’Hara implies Alfred’s post-terrace life is wasted. Wasted compared to what? His earlier life of womanizing and money-grubbing? What’s valuable and noble about that?

O’Hara blames Alfred’s wasted retirement on his never having made any real friends. Alfred doesn’t seem to notice whether he has friends or not. Perhaps sleeping with his friends’ wives cured him of expecting to have friends.

Be that as it may, I couldn’t help feeling O’Hara would have done me a favor by retiring Alfred about 500 pages earlier.

From the Terrace

By John O’Hara
Random House, 1958
897 pages
1958 Bestseller #5
My Grade: D+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni