1954 did not produce a bumper crop of bestselling novels. Even Taylor Caldwell, Frances Parkinson Keyes, and Daphne du Maurier — authors whom I usually count on to provide entertainment and a bit more besides — disappointed me.
John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday and Hamilton Basso’s The View from Pompey’s Head are the best of the lot and neither of them is a novel I want to have close at hand for convenient rereading. Sweet Thursday is a bit too light, Pompey’s Head a bit too studied.
The best of the novels of 1954 is the one that didn’t make the bestseller list that year: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. It’s a keeper.
The View from Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso is a novel about New York City lawyer Anson Page whose work takes him back to his southern home.
Anson’s task is to determine whether a recently deceased editor for a publishing house embezzled a client’s royalties.
Anson’s law firm and their client assume his local connections will make it easy for him to find out why Mrs. Garvin Wales is sure Phillip Greene stole her husband’s royalties.
Anson assumes his local connections will make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to find out the truth.
Basso explores not only the murky process of growing up, but the Southern mindset, which Anson calls “Southern Shintoism.”
Basso takes his time telling the story, letting Anson delve into his memories of how things appeared to him more than 15 years before.
Anson’s memories are still vivid, some painfully so, but his understanding of their meaning has changed as he matured. Anson finally finds the solution to the mystery of the re-directed royalties through his adult understanding of Southern culture.
Though the novel moves with Southern summer speed, Basso keeps it moving without any extraneous elements. Without exerting himself to entertain, he keeps readers engaged, leading them effortlessly to understand the value of the South’s myths.
The View from Pompey’s Head
By Hamilton Basso
© 1954 by Hamilton Basso
Introduction by John W. Aldridge © 1985
Arbor House, 1985 [paper]
1954 bestseller #8
My grade: A-
© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni