Rally Round the Flag for Cold War comedy

Rally Round the Flag, Boys is a tale of the Cold War era written by Max Shulman, the man who gave the world Dobie Gillis. As you might expect, it’s stupid stuff, but funny.

Second Lieutenant Guido di Maggio has been ordered to Fairbanks, Alaska. He doesn’t want to go. He has a girlfriend back home in Putnam’s Landing, Connecticut, and he doesn’t want to leave her.

When Guido hears a Nike missile facility is being built in Putnam’s Landing, he gets himself appointed PR man for the project, much to the dismay of Captain Walter Hoxie, assigned to head the base. Hoxie hates civilians and anybody who likes civilians.

Determined to keep out of Alaska, Guido maps his strategy and makes a strong start. People rally around the project.

A few teenage boys are unhappy that their girlfriends are throwing them over for soldiers, but Guido doesn’t notice until it’s way too late.

All the book’s characters are drawn with sit-com strokes. There’s not enough substance to any of them to make a good novel, but Shulman makes them credible for as long as it takes to tell the story.

You’ll enjoy Rally Round the Flag, Boys the day after you have 24-hour flu.

Rally Round the Flag, Boys
By Max Shulman
Doubleday, 1957
278 pages
#4 on the 1957 bestseller list
My Grade: D+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Peyton Place Not Worth Return Visit

I’d always assumed Peyton Place was a salacious novel. It’s not. Sex figures in the plot, but the novel’s not about gratuitous sex.

The story is set just before World War II in a small New England town with all the usual small-town characteristics, notably gossip, grudges, and inbreeding.

There is the usual cast of characters: the dedicated doctor, the cynical newspaper editor, the bullying industrialist, the spinster school teacher, the poor-but-deserving young person.

The central event of the novel is Lucas Clark’s rape of his stepdaughter, Selena. Everyone else in Peyton Place gets tangled in the events that follow.

The novel might not have caused any raised eyebrows if it had been set in the South.  We don’t associate slum lords, tar paper shacks, and shantytowns with Connecticut villages. The idea that poor white trash like Clark and his drunken pals live in rural towns graced by pristine, white church steeples is unsettling, almost obscene.

Author Grace Metalious writes about the entire town but fails to make readers care about any of its residents. There’s enough story to make a TV mini-series, but not enough character development for an enduring novel.

Peyton Place
By Grade Metalious
Simon & Schuster, 1956
372 pages
#2 on the 1957 bestseller list
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni