Random Winds: Not the usual surgeon story

dust jacket art: Dr. Martin Farrell flanked by his lover in England and wife in New York
Lover and wife on opposite sides of the surgeon

Random Winds begins in the manner of an A. J. Cronin story of a poor boy who becomes a brilliant surgeon.

But nothing I’ve come across in the 20th century’s bestsellers is anything like Belva Plain’s Random Winds.

The liner notes describe the novel as a saga about three generations of doctors, but the story is really about just one of them, Martin Farrell.

There’s the usual faithful wife and alluring temptress, the surgeons clawing for preeminence, the wealth industrialist who comes comes to the rescue with funds for the surgeon’s pet project; those are required in novels about MDs.

Readers see everything in the novel through Martin’s eyes.

Martin is smart, hard-working, principled, essentially decent.

But he also takes everything he sees at face value.

Random Winds is compelling because Martin learns repeatedly that outside the operating room the evidence of his eyes and ears isn’t always true.

It’s not until his daughter, whom he thought would take over his scalpel, chooses a different specialty that Martin realizes what had actually happened in the episodes that were turning points in his life.

Plain’s characters learn and grow so that when they meet after a passage of time they can forgive what they cannot forget.

Random Winds by Belva Plain
Delacorte Press ©1980. 496 p.
1980 bestseller #8. My grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Evergreen but forgetable

Evergreen follows Anna Friedman, a beautiful, red-headed Polish Jew, who comes to America alone as a teenager in the early 1900s.

Cover illustration for Evergreen shows Anna and a mansion in the center and two men on other side of them.
Symbolically, elements on Evergreen‘s cover don’t touch.

Anna works in a factory, learns English, reads and studies until she’s able to get work as a maid in a home of an upper crust banking family. There she falls for the son, Paul Werner.

Anna marries another poor immigrant, Joseph Friedman, who has little use for formal education but a great capacity for learning. He sees a fortune to be made in building.

When times get rough, Joseph sends Anna to appeal to the Werners for a loan. Anna gets the loan and a child by Paul.

The rest of the novel follows Anna and the next three generations of her family up to the 1970s.

Evergreen feels more like linked short stories than a novel. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. Bella Plain was a popular short story writer before Evergreen, her first novel.

Plain’s characters are complex enough for a short story, but not for a novel. She doesn’t show characters growing; she only shows they have changed.

History, too, is relegated to scene changes. Even the holocaust in Evergreen appears antiseptic.

Evergreen is decent entertainment, free of lurid detail, but totally forgettable.

Evergreen by Bella Plain
Delacorte Press, c1978. 593 p.
1978 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni