In No Greater Love, Kate and Bert Winfield and the man who is soon to marry their daughter Edwina, perish when the Titanic sinks April 15, 1912.
Although Kate could have left the ship—women and children were given priority in filling lifeboats—she chose to go down with her husband.
Safely back home in San Francisco, Edwina takes on the task of bringing up her five younger siblings, certain that she will never marry and bitterly angry at her mother for choosing to stay with her father instead of caring for her family.
The two oldest Winfield boys, ages 12 and 16, and the two youngest, ages 4 and 12, come through the ordeal relatively unscathed. The middle daughter, a fearful child before boarding the Titanic, is emotionally damaged for life.
Edwina does an admirable job of raising the children.
The youngest are already teenagers when she begins to be interested in a man again. Thanks to him, Edwina realizes that her mother died because she loved her husband too deeply to be parted from him.
Thank you, Danielle Steel, for such an uplifting ending. It feels so much better than acknowledging that the Titanic death were due to a shortage of lifeboats and lack of satisfactory emergency procedures.
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.
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.
Saul Bellow’s Herzog is the sort of novel about which critics utter phrases like “certain to be talked about.”
I’ll say the novel contains some clever sentences. (I particularly liked, “He was a piece of human capital badly invested.”) But it takes more than a few good sentences to make a novel.
Having a plot is always useful.
Bellow seems to have missed the boat there.
The story, such as it is, concerns Moses E. Herzog, 47, a man with two ex-wives, two children, and a trail of fondly remembered sex partners.
Herzog may not be crazy, but he is definitely a guy with issues.
Most of the book is Herzog’s letters to friends, family, colleagues, strangers, each attempting to set the record straight. He writes others were wrong, he was right.
Herzog reminds me of Edward Casaubon in George Eliot’s nineteenth century novel Middlemarch. Casaubon wants to find the key to all mythologies; Herzog wants to find the key to all of life. If Casaubon had written a personal memoir, it would have sounded a lot like Herzog’s scribbling, although to give Herzog his due, he does have a sense of irony which Casaubon entirely lacks.
Herzog finally writes himself into exhaustion and winds up back in the same neglected house where the story began.
by Saul Bellow
New York: Viking Press
1964 bestseller #3
My grade C
Arthur Train’s His Children’s Children is too good not to be better.
The novel focuses on the children and grandchildren of Peter “the Pirate” Kayne, an old rip who made his pile in mining and railroads and used it to start his family up the social ladder. By 1921, his son Rufus has achieved social respectability; his granddaughters have achieved social acceptance.
As the novel opens, lawyer Lloyd Maitland is assigned to deal with Rufus’s attempt to get his daughter Claudia and her children away from her philandering husband.
The story quickly veers off to the unwed Kayne sisters, both of whom seem to Lloyd to have no moral values. That doesn’t stop Lloyd being smitten with Diana.
The novel is an indictment of materialism and bad parenting. Train takes care to make his case largely through dialogue, underscoring it with descriptions that impale characters on his pen point.
Train never lets go of his thesis, but he seems to lose the thread of the plot. When the curtain comes down on a contrived ending, situations have changed but people have not.
We have to put up with such reality in life; in a novel, it feels like an insult.
His Children’s Children by Arthur Train Illus. By Charles D. Mitchell 1923, Grosset & Dunlap 391 pages 1923 bestseller #2