The Establishment: Hurtling through history

The Establishment is the last novel in Howard Fast’s trilogy about the family of Dan Lavette, the son of an immigrant fisherman who made and lost two fortunes.

Front dust jacket of The Establishment is a collage of scenes from the novel
An unfocused collage fits the novel

Here, as in Second Generation, Fast focuses on Dan’s daughter Barbara who married a Jewish soldier of fortune.

Barbara’s writing produces a good income without her touching her inheritance.

Bernie operates a garage. He works very hard, barely turns a profit, and is bored.

Bernie jumps at the chance to fly planes to Israel to prepare the new nation for a forthcoming war against Arab countries with established armies.

He’s killed in Israel.

Reporting Barbara did from Nazi Germany brings her to the attention of the McCarthy hearings.

She’s sentenced to six months in a federal prison for women.

Meanwhile, Barbara’s brother Tom is becoming a power broker, part of the wealthy establishment men who select the people whom Americans will elect by popular vote to run the country.

Fast’s novels cry out for video treatment: The main characters are merely sketched, there are swift scene changes, and the historical context has been lost in the intervening 40 years.

Masterpiece could make Fast’s novels come alive.

Fast merely makes them hurtle through history.

The Establishment by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 337 p.
1979 bestseller #08 My grade: B

©2018 Linda G. Aragoni

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The Last Enchantment

Merlin's harp is focus of front cover of the Mary Stewart novel The Last Enchantment.
Merlin plays his swan song on this harp.

The Last Enchantment is the final book in Mary Stewart’s trilogy about how Arthur became England’s king, subdued the Saxons, and ruled from Camelot.

As in The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, Stewart tells the story from the vantage point of Merlin, the prophet/wizard who is cousin to Arthur and his mentor.

Merlin has lost his youthful stamina and he’s losing his ability to foresee the future.

Having lived either alone or among men all his life, without his prophetic gift Merlin is at the mercy of women.

Arthur has just won the crown. He must fight to keep it and to beget a son to carry on his line.

Arthur also has to worry about his half-sisters, who have dynastic ambitions of their own, and about his bastard son by one of those half-sisters.

For the first 400 pages of the novel, Stewart spins a fascinating yarn.

She seems then to realize she has too much history still to cover, so she sidelines Merlin while she advances the story.

Then brings him back, gives him a “while you were out” message, wraps up the story, and closes the covers.

The result is 80 percent enchantment and 20 percent disappointment.

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
Morrow, 1979. 538 p.
1979 bestseller #07 My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Second Generation: A Fast read

Second Generation is the second volume of Howard Fast’s trilogy about an Italian immigrant, Dan Lavette.

Cover of Second Generation is collage of drawings of scenes of the novel
Cover collage echoes shifting focus of Fast’s novel “Second Generation.”

As the title suggests, Dan’s children are the focus of this novel, which opens in California during the Depression and ends after World War II.

Dan has two children, Barbara and Tom, by his first wife, Jean, from whom he is divorced; and Joseph, by his second wife, May Ling.

Barbara and Tom have enjoyed all the benefits of Jean’s wealth and social status. Barbara remains emotionally close to her father and to his second family; she’s antagonistic toward her stepfather and ambivalent toward her mother.

Tom is emotionally cold to both his parents. He values his stepfather’s money and connections.

Joseph has coped well with Dan’s Depression-triggered decent from wealthy entrepreneur to mackerel fisherman. Joseph is on course to become a doctor.

Fast provides a fast-reading story, constantly shifting from one character to another, as their divergent interests take them to cinematic situations: a labor strike, Berlin under the Nazis, Hawaii under Japanese attack, India during WWII rationing,

Fast doesn’t show his characters grow; he just shows them changed. History, too, is reduced to scenes; there’s no continuity.

Second Generation provides good entertainment.

If you want something more substantial, you need to go elsewhere.

Second Generation by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1978. 441 p.
1978 bestseller #9. My grade: B

Second Generation is the second volume of a trilogy. The first novel of the set, The Immigrants, published a year earlier, didn’t make the bestseller list, but the third volume, The Establishment, published in 1979 did.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni