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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Quote from Roger Gale: "There's to be nothing startling in this quiet house of mine."

Roger Gale came to New York at 17 from New Hampshire looking for a business he could turn into the American dream.

He made it happen. He also married.


His Family by Ernest Poole
MacMillan, 1917. 1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #14396. My grade A-.

Three daughters and 20 years later, Judith died, leaving Roger “deaf and blind to his children.”

Another 20 years later, Roger is emerging from his emotional deadness. His daughters seem foreign.

When Judith had told him before she died, “You will live on in our children’s lives,” Roger hadn’t believed her.

Slowly he sees that his children take after him, for better and for worse.

Edith is prim, controlling, totally absorbed in her husband and three children.

Deborah mothers 3,000 children. She’s principal of a school in the tenements that’s drawing national notice as a community educational center.

Laura is “a spender and a speeder,” with morals as skimpy as her clothes.

The sisters irritate one another and, in varying degrees, their father.

World War I starts.

Life happens.

So does death.

Ernest Poole’s characters are vivid, complicated, and annoyingly human.

Their life-changing events are pretty ordinary.

Their self-awareness is as dull as most everyone else’s, their influence as modest as most everyone else’s.

That’s why His Family feels real 100 years after its first publication.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Valley of the Dolls is a tale of three amoral young women looking for happiness in New York City in 1945.

They live life in the fast lane, pointed downhill and accelerating.


Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susan

Bernard Geis, 1966. 442 pp. #1 bestseller 1966. My grade: D-.

collage of women's faces, pills

Anne Wells is a Radcliff-educated beauty with impeccable taste in everything except men.

Through her job for a theatrical attorney, Anne meets Jennifer, who is trying to parlay her face and figure into a fortune, and Neely, who is trying to become a star through talent and hard work.

All three sink to bed-hopping and pill-popping.

Perhaps Jacqueline Susan’s packaging of her novel as an exposé of life in the fast lane was the bait that led normally sensible readers to make it the top-selling novel in the US in 1966.

It certainly wasn’t the plot, which is little more than a dramatization of the graffiti found in a high school toilet.

Susan ends the novel by assuring readers that people who do the things she has described so vividly will end in the valley of the dolls, a slang term for drug addiction.

Instead of being the saving grace that pulls the novel from the gutter, the tacked-on moral ending is the damming blow that condemns it forever to the trash heap.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Harbor is a fictional history of the major upheavals in American life between 1865 and 1915 as experienced by a family who lived and worked on New York City’s waterfront.

[The New York Public Library’s digital book New York City Harbor puts the novel in its historical and visual setting.]


The Harbor by Ernest Poole

Grossett & Dunlap, 1915. Project Gutenberg ebook #29932. 1915 bestseller #8. My grade: B+.


Part owner of a warehouse on the docks, Bill’s father dreams and works his entire life for a golden age of shipping dominated by America and delivered by honorable men in beautiful vessels.

Bill’s college-educated mother is repelled by the harbor’s scenes and people. The family is not rich enough for New York society.

Following his mother’s lead, Bill first sees the harbor as an unpleasant place.

As a youth, Bill comes under the sway of an engineer, soon to be his father-in-law, who serves the god of efficiency and the pocketbooks of Wall Street.

Later Bill falls under the spell of a revolutionary who shows him the human cost of efficiency, and Bill becomes enamored of the wisdom of the masses and organized labor.

Bill narrates with the detachment of hindsight. He is, however, sufficiently self-aware to realize he’s all too likely to jettison today’s struggle for the next big thing.

Into this framework, novelist Ernest Poole pours the personal stories of Bill and his extended family who are as real as the folks at your family reunion.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The early 1900s saw a spate of novels about clergymen who came under bad influences in big cities. Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia is one of the more ridiculous examples of group.

The One Woman contains some interesting insights into what today are sneeringly called traditional values, but the novel’s plot and characterization are implausible even by the standards of melodrama.

The title character, Ruth Gordon, is the jealous wife of the Rev. Frank Gordon, a handsome and charismatic preacher who is packing a New York City church with a beguiling blend of scriptures and socialism.

Ruth has reason to worry: Frank has an ego twice the size of his church’s sanctuary.

When sexy, sophisticated heiress Kate Ransom tells Frank his words seem divine, Frank’s a gonner.

Frank leaves Ruth and the kids for Kate.

Ruth throws herself at Frank's feet

Ruth is overcome when Frank says he’s leaving her

Frank invents a new, utopian religion that features open marriage.

When Kate tells Frank she’s leaving him, Franks kills her new lover.

In the nick of time, Ruth rescues Frank from the electric chair, restoring the confessed murder to his rightful place as husband, head of the household,  and father to their dear, innocent little children.

The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia
by Thomas Dixon Jr.
Life Country Press, 1903
350 pages
1903 bestseller # 9

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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January 24 will be the 150th birthday of New York City author Edith Wharton.

Pat Ryan has written a retrospective for the New York Times mingling historical perspective on Wharton’s work with insights into the  American fascination with British aristocracy as evidenced in the popularity of the  mini-series “Downton Abbey” currently in its second season on PBS.

Check out the accompanying slide show for marvelous photos of people and places of Wharton’s era.

I reviewed  Wharton’s famous 1921 bestselling novel, The Age of Innocence, here last year.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

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As Edith Wharton’s title sugests, The Age of Innocence is a picture of an era.

The story opens in the 1870s. Newland Archer, from whose perspective the story is seen, is a New York nob with a law practice as a hobby; he doesn’t need the money.

Engaged to much younger May Welland, Newland urges a speedy wedding to counter the unpleasantness surrounding the reappearance in New York of May’s cousin Ellen Olenska, who left her European husband under unsavory circumstances.

Once married to May, through his inlaws, Newland gets roped into seeing whether it is feasible for Ellen to get a divorce.

It’s a touchy situation.

Divorce is considered scandalous; it would diminish the social status of all Ellen’s family. Besides that, Newland’s sympathy for Ellen has been interpreted by the family with some acuity as a love interest.

Wharton blows up the hyposcrisy of America’s late Victorian social leaders that’s ridiculed by their less-innocent children.

Wharton is a keen observer and fine writer, yet for all its literary merit the Age of Innocence has little punch. The fault is not Wharton’s writing. The problem is that shallow characters do not make deep books.

The Age of Innocence
By Edith Wharton
D. Appleton,  1920
365  pages
1920 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg Ebook-No. 541
My Grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield takes a plot that appears to be plodding off in one direction, gives it more twists than a bag of pretzels, and turns out a story that seems perfectly plausible.

As the curtain rises, old Hector Champion is giving a dreary dinner to distract himself from worry over the results of medical tests he will get the following day. His dinner guests include a nouveau riche financier, the financier’s current mistress and her husband, Hector’s nephew, the woman the financier wishes to marry, and the woman who had wanted to marry Hector some 50 years before.

As the party breaks up, Hector gets a telegram from his black-sheep sister who scandalized society years before by running off with her brother-in-law.

Bromfield leaves Hector at home fretting and follows the guests home.

Before 24 hours are up, the financier breaks up with his mistress and proposes to another woman, Hector’s nephew marries his actress girlfriend, two people are murdered, the mob puts a contract on one of the murderers, and the cuckolded husband is in a fair way to be fingered for the other murder.

By dinner the next evening, 67-year-old Savina Jerrold has straightened out all the remaining muddles, including Hector.

Twenty-Four Hours
By Louis Bromfield
Frederick A. Stokes, 1930
463 pages
1930 bestseller #10
My grade B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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