Arrowsmith stumbles and bogs down

Sinclair Lewis says Arrowsmith is the biography of a young man who was “in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back all his life and bogged himself in every obvious morass.”

The novel also stumbles and bogs down.

Arrowsmith in laboratory graces 1952 dust jacket of novel


Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

©1925. 1952 ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, includes a biographical sketch of Sinclair Lewis and “How Arrowsmith was written,” both by Barbara Grace Spayd. 464 pp. 1925 bestseller #7. My grade: B.


A drunken doctor lets Martin Arrowsmith read his Gray’s Anatomy and points him toward medical school.

Martin takes a BA, a MD, and a wife. He wants to do research, but is forced into general practice to support Leora.

He’s hopeless as a doctor: He has no people skills.

A lucky discovery leads him into a research job under the great Max Gottlieb.

Martin wants respect among scientists, but he’s willing to throw even that away when his emotions are touched.

An epidemic on a Caribbean Island gives Martin a chance to run a controlled test of a vaccine. Martin promises Gottlieb that  he won’t give in to demands to supply it to all residents.

Lewis makes Martin, Leora, and Gottleib plausible, if not particularly likeable. He sketches minor characters with broad strokes of sarcasm.

The total effect is neither serious enough or funny enough to satisfy today’s reader, but the Pulitzer committee thought the novel worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Doctors Lock Horns in Disputed Passage

“Tubby” Forrester is a brilliant anatomist and neurosurgeon with a tongue as sharp as his scapel.   Jack Beaven feels that tongue his first day in medical school.

As much as he dislikes Tubby personally, Jack respects the man’s genius and vows to be a top scientist like Tubby. Jack succeeds so well he becomes Tubby’s assistant.

Later Tubby recommends him for the medical school faculty. They work together, but without any personal relationship. Yet Jack becomes more and more like Tubby.

Tubby has Jack see a case referred by one of his college chums, Bill Cummingham, a GP noted for taking a personal interest in patients — a daft idea to scientists like Tubby and Jack.

Jack falls for the boy’s aunt, an American girl raised in China by Chinese foster parents.

Jack’s romantic interest softens him to Bill’s view of treating patients as people instead of cases and leads, indirectly, to cracks in Tubby’s crust as well.

No one would mistake Disputed Passage for literature, but the plot and characters are far above the pot boiler level. 

And, despite Lloyd C. Douglas’ annoying vague religiosity, the novel kept my interest to the end, something a Douglas novel rarely does.

Disputed Passage
By Lloyd C. Douglas
Houghton Mifflin, 1939
432 pages
1939 bestseller # 6
My Grade: B
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Shannon’s Way Is All Downhill

Shannon’s Way is A. J. Cronin’s sequel to The Green Years. Robert Shannon, now an M.D., is working in a research lab, bitterly doing grunt work.

Robert gets kicked out of the lab for doing his own research instead of his assigned duties. He finds comfort and encouragement in Jean Law, an attractive medical student headed for the mission field, but religious differences separate them.

From there, it’s downhill.

Robert loses post after post because he can’t get along with his co-workers. All the while, he keeps at his research.

Eventually, beaten to publication by another researcher, Robert has a breakdown. Jean reappears bearing an offer of a research appointment abroad and declaring her love.

This plot is absurd.

The reason Robert wasn’t first was to publish his discovery was that he took time to develop a vaccine against the organism — something the first researcher didn’t do. Robert could still have published, made a bundle, and been able to afford to eat.

Trying to pass Robert Shannon off as a hero is nuts. He may be a brilliant medical researcher, but he has the emotional intelligence of a newt. Why anybody can stand the guy is beyond me.

Poor Jean.

She’s in for a miserable life.

Shannon’s Way
By A. J. Cronin
Little, Brown, 1948
172 pages
Bestseller # 8 for 1948
My Grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni