Islands in the Stream: One man, three places

Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream is a three-part novel. Its sections are connected by characters and settings, but are totally different in tone.

Well-read copy of Islands in the Stream

The first section, Bimini, introduces Thomas Hudson, a twice-divorced painter living happily with his personal devils by keeping to a rigid schedule for working and drinking.

His three sons come to visit during their summer holidays. Tom and an old friend, writer Roger Davis, keep the boys busy swimming and fishing.

After the end of their vacation, Tom’s two sons by his second wife are killed in a car accident.

The second section, Cuba, is set during World War II. Tom has just learned that last remaining son has been killed in the war.

When reasonably sober, Tom does reconnaissance work for the US military, using his own boat. During most of the Cuba section, Tom sits in a bar and drinks.

The third section, At Sea, has Tom and his crew tracking survivors of a sunken German U-boat who, in their escape, massacred a village. In a shoot-out, Tom is badly, perhaps fatally wounded.

Islands will probably appeal to Hemingway fans. Those bored by watching others fish or drink, will probably quit reading long before the massacre.

Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
Scribner, [1970] 466 p.
1970 bestseller #3. My grade: B

Historical note: Islands in the Stream was one of over 300 of Ernest Hemingway’s unpublished works his widow, Mary Hemingway, found after her husband’s death.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Younger Set: Friends and marriage

The Younger Set is both a romance and a love story.

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The romance is between a divorced man, Capt. Philip Selwyn, 35, and his sister’s ward, Eileen Erroll, 19.

The love story that of Selwyn and his ex-wife, Alixe.


The Younger Set by Robert W. Chambers
G.C. Wilmhurst, illus. D. Appleton, 1907. 1907 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg ebook #14852. My Grade: B.

Selwyn was on army maneuvers in Manila when Alixe ran off with Jack Ruthven.

Selwyn chose to be legally branded the guilty party rather than contest the divorce, and that dishonor forced him to resign his army commission.

Two years later, Selwyn is back in America, Alixe is married to Ruthven, and she’s also going around with a man whose wife is a friend of hers.

Selwyn has never given Alixe back her photograph, and his sister can’t interest him in other women.

Selwyn becomes friends with Eileen.

Eileen’s brother, Gerald, works for the same real estate firm for which Selwyn worked before the war.

When Gerald gets drawn into high-stakes card games at the Ruthven home, Selwyn plays big brother.

Robert W. Chambers treats even minor characters with respectful nuances. There are no sterotypes in view.

Chambers lends depth to his portraits with backdrops of marriages and romances against which readers can evaluate Sewlyn’s behavior and, perhaps, evaluate their own opinions.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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

 

Heart of Rachael divorced from self-awareness

Many early twentieth century novels explored the then still controversial topic of divorce, but none with the perseptivity of Kathleen Norris’s The Heart of Rachael.

Norris sets her novel among the Long Island country club set in the halcyon days before World War I.

Professional golfer Tom McNamara at 1915 U.S. Open
Golf was a big part of country club life in the early twentieth century.

The Heart of Rachael by Kathleen Norris

 1916 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg ebook #4915. My grade: B+.


Because she knew she could manage his house and thought she got on well with his daughter, Rachael Fairfax married a divorced man whom she did not love.

Step-daughter Carol grows into a teenager and Clarence Beckenridge’s drinking becomes acute alcoholism.

Rachael confides her unhappiness to Dr. Warren Gregory, Clarence’s physician and a member of their social set.

Rachael leaves Clarence, who agrees to give her grounds for divorce.

Then she marries Warren Gregory.

For a time, it’s a happy marriage.

Then Warren takes an interest in a young, aspiring actress, who also is part of their social set.

When Rachael confronts Warren about Magsie, he gives all the same excuses Rachael used for leaving Clarence.

Author Norris walks over, under, around, and through the experience of divorce.

Her people are believable both in their self-awareness and in their blind self-absorption.

Unfortunately, Norris felt compelled to manufacture a quasi-happy ending.

The manufactured ending reveals the fundamental fact of divorce: It doesn’t change people.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Blue Window charms

The Blue Window opens with the funeral of widow Elizabeth Carew at age 41, and ends with the marriage of her daughter, Hildegarde.

Between the two events is a predictable but charming romance given piquancy by Temple Bailey’s failure to establish a consistent point of view.


The Blue Window by Temple Bailey

Penn Publishing, 1926. 328 ps. 1926 bestseller #10. My Grade: B.


girl looks out window in illustration opposite title page of The Blue Window

Elizabeth left a letter for Hildegarde saying she was divorced, not widowed. Her still-living husband, Louis Carew, does not know he has a daughter.

Hildegard leaves her aunt’s farm to go to her father’s estate near Chesapeake Bay.

She also leaves Crispin Harlowe, her dear friend, who loves her but whom she does not love.

Carew is delighted with his beautiful daughter: She might attract the money he needs to keep his estate.

While Hildegarde is being groomed, gowned, and feted, the story’s focus shifts to Crispin.

Crispin graduates, goes to work in a Washington D. C. law firm, and buys a house near Mount Vernon.

He never gives up believing Hildegarde will marry him.

There’s nothing particularly novel about the story, but Bailey draws her portraits well, with the exception of Louis Carew, whose peculiarities are mainly told rather than shown.

The Blue Window will entertain throughout, and occasionally will grab with a particularly well-crafted observation.

© 2016 by Linda Gorton Aragoni

After Noon: A marriage saved, novel ruined

For the first 200 pages, Susan Ertz’s After Noon is an enjoyable, plausible story.

Then it becomes preposterous.


After Noon by Susan Ertz

A. L. Burt, 1926. 338 p. 1926 bestseller #9. My Grade: B-.


black and white sketch of forest scene is front cover of After NoonCharles Lester’s life had walked out on him in Italy, leaving behind a note, a check for a hundred pounds, and their twin baby daughters.

Almost 20 years later, a happily celibate Charles has paid the divorce costs, become a successful accountant, and is enjoying life with daughters Venetia and Caroline.

One evening a Mrs. Lydia Chalmers phones, having been told by one of his clients to look Charles up when she gets to England.

Charles extends appropriate courtesies.

Soon Lydia is a regular part of the Lesters’ lives.

Both daughters marry in haste, Venetia to accompany a soldier who’s posted to India and Caroline to assist a comrade in making war on capitalism.

With the girls gone, Charles and Lydia marry.

Tying the knot apparently shuts off the oxygen to Lydia’s brain.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, she convinces herself Charles regrets their marriage. To test him, she intends to leave him, hoping he’ll come after her.

Nothing in Lydia’s prior behavior prepares readers for such self-destructive stupidity.

Ertz rescues the marriage.

She can’t save the novel.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

B.F.’s Daughter is old at 70

I suspect the reason B.F.’s Daughter made the bestseller list in 1946 had more to do with post-war malaise than with John P. Marquand’s writing, good as it is.

Though its story seems out-of-date, the novel is still good reading.


 

B.F.’s Daughter by John P. Marquand

Little, Brown, 1946. 439 p. 1946 bestseller #9. My grade: B.


After her wealthy industrialist father dies, Polly Brett goes to Washington where her husband is churning out war propaganda.

She and Tom quarrel.

He goes off, ostensibly to take refuge in his work.

Polly has no trouble meeting men who are also alone in Washington. Although Polly sees a certain attraction in an affair, she backs away.

Then Polly runs into a long-time acquaintance who tells her “nothing matters that happened before the war.”

When Polly learns Tom has a mistress, she begins to feel perhaps her pre-war marriage doesn’t matter.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn, complex people. Contemporary readers may find them old-fashioned—imagine not having sex just out of a sense of personal integrity!—but they are none the less believable individuals.

Today the idea that one simply walks away from an unhappy marriage is taken as a truism rather than an epiphany.

That’s not a criticism of B.F.’s Daughter, but of our culture.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni