Good entertainment on The River Road

Gervais d’Alvery comes home from World War I to marry his sweetheart, Merry Randall, and make his Louisiana sugar plantation profitable again.

Gervais sees state politics as a means of improving the economic climate for planters like himself. His war-hero status, family name, and good looks make him a natural.


The River Road by Frances Parkinson Keyes

Julian Messner, 1945. 747 p. 1946 bestseller #3. My grade: B.


Workers load long stalks of sugar cane on a wagonBy their 10th anniversary, the couple have five children, a huge mortgage, and a none-too-well-hidden secret.

As Gervais tries to resuscitate his family fortunes, other men with less aristocratic origins —and some with far fewer principles — are making their mark in business and politics.

Louisiana in World War II will be far different than in World War I.

In The River Road, Frances Parkinson Keyes displays the story-telling flair that made her one of the top names in fiction in the middle of the last century.

The plot is intricate, but nothing seems extraneous in this well-crafted novel.

The characters are complex individuals. They have annoying foibles as well as some outright flaws, but they are believable, likable human beings.

A few weeks after you close the covers, you’ll have forgotten what The River Road was about,  but while you’re reading, it will give as much pleasure as it did in ’46.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The writing of the green: bestsellers about the Irish

Irish writers are as famous as Irish whiskey: What reader hasn’t heard the names Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift,  Oscar Wilde,  C.S. Lewis?

Yet best-selling novels featuring Irish characters are a fairly recent development.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are three recommended vintage novels featuring Irish characters that will entertain you and perhaps give some insight into the history of the Irish at home and abroad.

Kitty Foyle

1939-10-Kitty_FoyleKitty Foylethe heroine of Christopher Morley’s 1939 novel of that name, is a Philadelphia working-class girl from Irish immigrant stock.

She’s smart enough to be considered college material and dumb enough to fall for a Main Line guy whose family would never have accepted an Irish working-class daughter-in-law.

Kitty provides a glimpse into the second-generation Irish immigrant each-foot-in-a-different-world experience of the 1930s.

Joy Street

joy-street_200Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes, 1950, gives a glimpse into the Irish absorption into America’s professional class.

The story is about Emily Field whose lawyer-husband’s firm, reaching out the the Boston immigrant community, hires a Jewish lawyer, an Italian lawyer, and an Irish lawyer.

Roger both likes and respects his colleagues, but Emily’s family is less than enthusiastic about immigrants who didn’t arrive on the Mayflower. Even Emily isn’t sure she’s keen on Irishmen, but she comes around.

The Edge of Sadness

1961-09-fc_edgesadnessIn his 1961 novel, The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O’Connor explores stereotypical Irish characters, who by 1960 have become a political and economic force in Boston.

The leading character is an over-50 priest, Father Kennedy, who after four years in a western facility for alcoholics , has been brought back East to lead a down-at-the-heels parish. The parishioners are primarily immigrants from post-war Europe and South America, too busy trying to make ends meet to come to church.

Have a good day reading of the green.

The Royal Box: Murder with Happy Ending

Dust Jacket shows theater party in The Royal BoxThe Royal Box is a murder mystery with an epilogue that seems added to let the story end on a upbeat note.

Frances Parkinson Keyes provides a cast of characters in order of appearance. The book jacket provides an account of the love affair in 1926 that led to the murder-by-cyanide in 1951. The fact that both those reader aids were thought necessary in a work of popular fiction shows how complicated the novel is.

The poisoned man is Baldwin Castle, newly appointed ambassador to an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. Years before, after being jilted by an English aristocrat, he’d had an affair with actress Janice Lester.

He left her pregnant.

When Castle and his new, second wife pass through London, they are entertained with a theater party in the Royal Box at the theater where Janice Lester is starring.

The guests include the woman who Castle thought jilted him; the ambassador of the country to which Castle has been assigned; Janice, her husband, and their adopted son who is really Castle’s and Janice’s son.

A dry-as-dust policeman figures out who done it.

And Keyes makes sure everyone’s life ends more happily than Baldwin Castle’s did.

The Royal Box
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
New York: Julian Messner, 1954
303 pages
1954 bestseller #4
My grade: C

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Joy Street Lives Up to Its Name

When Emily Thayer tells her family that she is going to marry Roger Field, they tell her he will never set the world on fire. That’s just  fine with Emily. She wants the world “peaceful and pleasant and safe.”

Emily gets her wish.

Roger is predictable and their marriage happy. In the years before and during World War II, Roger rises in his law firm by dint of hard work rather than brilliance. Together Roger and Emily expand their acquaintance beyond Beacon Hill society to Boston’s immigrant community, represented in Roger’s firm by a token Jew, a token Irishman and a token Italian.

David, Brian, and Pell, the “new Boston” lawyers, are vivid and vigorous characters who introduce Roger and Emily to facets of life they hadn’t known existed.

And  Roger and Emily surprise themselves by discovering new facets of their own personalities.  The plot grows organically out of those  personalities.

Even though Emily thinks herself capable of an affair, in imitation of her impressive grandmother,  readers realize a grand passion is not Emily’s style. Emily is believable in part because she remains true to her essential personality.

In Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes gives readers a story that, like Emily’s world, is peaceful and pleasant and safe.

Joy Street
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Jullian Messner, 1950
490 pages
1950 bestseller #2
My Grade B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Antoine’s Serves Mystery with Dinner

Dinner at Antoine’s is an endlessly pleasing novel. Since I found it on my mother’s bookshelf back in the ’60s, I’ve read it many times. I  never remember reading it until I’m almost done, so I enjoy it every time.

Orson Foxworth gives a dinner at Antoine’s restaurant to introduce his niece Ruth Avery to his New Orleans friends, including Amélie Lalande, the woman he plans to marry, and her family.

Ruth is immediately drawn to Amelie’s married daughter, Odile, but repelled by the sexually charged relationship between her husband and her sister—as well as by Amélie’s refusal to notice anything wrong.

When Odile is found shot to death the day after her doctor diagnoses her trembling as the first sign of an incurable condition that will paralyze her , there’s no shortage of suspects. Everyone from Odile’s mother to Foxworth appears to have a motive for murder—if it was murder and not suicide.

To the murder mystery Frances Parkinson Keyes adds two love stories, a conspiracy to overthrow a Latin American government, and generous dollops of New Orleans insider tittle-tattle, producing as pleasant an evening’s reading as you could hope to find.

Dinner at Antoine’s
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner 1948
366 pages
Bestseller # 3 for 1948, # 6 for 1949
My grade: B
©2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Few 1949 top novels worth rereading

1949 was not a particularly good year for novels.

The best of the lot is a holdover from the 1948 bestseller list, Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes.

The book, like all Keyes’ work, has a clever but plausible plot developed through memorable characters. And she writes well enough that her novels can be reread with pleasure.

Point of No Return by John P. Marquand is a better novel than Dinner at Antoine’s, but the elements that make it better from a literary standpoint make it less entertaining.

Marquand’s lead character, Charles Gray, is a solid, respectable, reliable banker, as dull as his name. Marquand tells how Charles almost stepped out of character once in his life.

That almost does Marquand in. A few months later, all I remembered was that the writing was wonderful. I couldn’t remember the character or plot at all.

The other books from the 1949 bestseller list are not worth picking up. Fortunately, there is some great reading on the 1939 bestseller list. I’ll begin looking at those novels this coming week.

~Linda

Have Dinner at Antoine’s Again

The novel in sixth position on the 1949 bestseller list was Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes, which appeared in third place in 1948.

I reviewed the book last year on this blog.

Though far from a great novel, the book is one that I’ve read several times and always found enjoyable. I think you’ll find it pleasantly diverting, too.

Dinner at Antoine’s always delights

Dinner at Antoine’s is an endlessly pleasing novel. Since I found it on my mother’s bookshelf back in the ’60s, I’ve read it many times. I never remember reading it until I’m almost done, but I enjoy it every time.

Orson Foxworth gives a dinner at Antonine’s restaurant to introduce his niece Ruth Avery to his New Orleans friends, including Amélie Lalande, the woman he plans to marry, and her family.

Ruth is immediately drawn to Amelie’s married daughter, Odile, but repelled by the sexually charged relationship between Odile’s husband and her sister — as well as by Amélie’s refusal to notice anything wrong.

When Odile is found shot to death the day after her doctor diagnoses her trembling as the first sign of an incurable condition that will paralyze her , there’s no shortage of suspects. Everyone from Odile’s mother to Foxworth appears to have a motive for murder — if it was murder and not suicide.

To the murder mystery, Frances Parkinson Keyes adds two love stories, a conspiracy to overthrow a Latin American government, and generous dollop of New Orleans insider tittle-tattle. The result is as pleasant an evening’s reading as you could hope to find.

Dinner at Antoine’s
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner 1948
366 pages
Bestseller # 3 for 1948
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Readers Keep Coming Back for Dinner at Antoine’s

Dinner at Antoine’s is an endlessly pleasing novel. Since I found it on my mother’s bookshelf back in the ’60s, I’ve read it many times. I never remember reading it until I’m almost done, but I enjoy it every time.

Orson Foxworth gives a dinner at Antoine’s restaurant to introduce his niece Ruth Avery to his New Orleans friends, including Amélie Lalande, the woman he plans to marry, and her family.

Ruth is immediately drawn to Amélie’s married daughter, Odile, but repelled by the sexually charged relationship between Odile’s husband and her sister—as well as by Amélie’s refusal to notice anything wrong.

When Odile is found shot to death the day after her doctor diagnoses her trembling as the first sign of an incurable condition that will paralyze her, there’s no shortage of suspects. Everyone from Odile’s mother to Foxworth appears to have a motive for murder—if it was murder and not suicide.

To the murder mystery, Frances Parkinson Keyes adds two love stories, a conspiracy to overthrow a Latin American government, and generous dollop of New Orleans insider tittle-tattle.

The result is as pleasant an evening’s reading as you could hope to find.

Dinner at Antoine’s
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner 1948
366 pages
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni