The Ghost

A miniature French chateau like that Pellerin had built for SarahOn the outside of The Ghost are two 1990s divorce stories. In one, Carole Waterson divorces her husband (who thought they were blissfully happy)  just as Charlie’s architectural firm recalls him from London to New York.

In the other, sportscaster and former Olympic ski champion Pierre Vironnet leaves his wife, Francesca, and their eight-year-old daughter, Monique, for a younger woman.

Charlie finds his company’s NYC office old-fashioned. Management won’t listen to reason. They gives Charlie a leave of absence, hoping he’ll quit.

Charlie decides to go to Vermont, but snow stops him in Shelburne Falls, Mass, where Francesca and Monique are already living.

Charlie rents a haunted house from an elderly widow, a miniature chateau Frenchman Francois de Pellerin built around 1800 for his English wife, Sarah Ferguson, who came to America alone to escape her abusive husband. In the attic, Charlie finds Sarah’s diaries (written in just after the American Revolution in 1990s prose), which inspire him to start his life over.

Before the temperature rises above freezing, Charlie and Francesca, passionately in love, are sitting on the historical society steps in a 30-inch snowfall.

The Ghost is not one of Danielle Steel’s best plots.

The Ghost by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1997. 352 p.
1997 bestseller #3; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Hollywood Husbands: the novel

a car key is single art element on front cover
A car key is caught on the Ls

Hollywood Husbands is a Jackie Collins novel, which means it’s about sex among the rich, powerful, and glamorous.

Here the setting is the entertainment industry.

The Hollywood husbands are two currently married jerks and one divorced jerk-in-rehab.

The two currently married jerks, once-divorced actor Mannon Cable and three-times-divorced film studio head Howard Solomon, haven’t a brain between them.

The only one of the three husbands who seems to have an ounce of sense is Jack Python, host of a top-rated television interview show.

Divorced once, Jack is in a sexual relationship with an Oscar-winning actress who he’d just as soon drop.

When model Jade Johnson, who is supposedly as smart as she is beautiful, comes to Hollywood to pose for a TV commercial, she gets sucked into the cesspool in which the husbands, wives, and their exes swim.

Collins doesn’t try to make any of three husbands interesting.

Instead, Collins focuses on daytime soaps megastar Silver Anderson’s marriage to an ex-bartender. Poor Wes had the misfortune to walk off with a gun and thousands of dollars belonging to the mob.

Hollywood Husbands serves up more than you want to know about people you wouldn’t want to know at all.

Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins
Simon and Schuster, ©1986. 543 p.
1986 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

How to Save Your Own Life

How to Save Your Own Life is a divorce story, which is the flip side of a love story.

Isadora Wing, neé Isadora White, tells the story.

front dust jacket: close-up of kissing couple
Kissing couple are married, about to marry, or divorcing. 

Isadora wrote the best-selling novel Candida Confesses, which her fans say is not only Isadora’s personal story but theirs as well.

Isadora, 32, has been married for eight years to Bennett Wing, a psychiatrist who sees his analyst and advises Isadora to talk to her analyst.

Bennett and Isadora never talk. They occasionally exchange information and have sex together even when they aren’t talking at all.

Isadora has had affairs, but when she learns Bennett has had affairs that all their friends knew about— and assumed she knew about—she begins to divorce Bennett emotionally, intellectually, sexually.

Her marriage to Bennett makes her distrust the possibility of a happy marriage.

Erica Jong makes Isadora’s tale feel absolutely true.

That’s her novel’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Although Isadora clothes her observations in quotable witticisms, so many people have had experiences like Isadora’s that there doesn’t seem to be anything new in Jong’s retelling of it.

The love poems that compose the final chapter, however, reveal the uniqueness of Isadora’s experience.

They’re worth the price of the book.

How to Save Your Own Life:
a novel by Erica Jong
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, ©1977. 310 p.
1977 bestseller #8. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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

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