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June 03, 1941 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-06-03

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rage Twelve

ERSPE CTI V E S

BOOKS IN SEASON

Whisde Stop, by Maritta Wolff,
Random House, 1941
REDUCED to the barest terms, Hamlet
becomes a penny-dreadful tale
Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual
slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and
forced cause.
Similarly, the narrative of Whistle Stop,
by Vtaritta Wolff, consists of ,deeds of
violence and horror: the somewhat de-
mented little girl, Dorothy, strangles
the family cat in rage when she discovers
that her savings bank has been robbed;
the family boarder is brought back un-
conscious from an alcoholic spree and
later hangs himself, driven on by the
diabolical hints of the little girl; the bad
boy of the" family (and that is saying
quite a lot for this family) is involved
In a murder frame-up by the local under-
world boss; the same bad boy has a sor-
did affair with his ex-sister-in-law and.
holds feelings more tender than fratern-
al for his own sister; another sister
marries the town rake, who has not too
long been graduated from the charms
of the third sister. Certainly this list
of events does not make pretty reading,
but Miss Wolff manages -in spite of the
melodrama to make Whistle Stop a nov-
el of great strength. For one thing, the
scenes of violence are here not for them-
selves but for the light they throw on the
characters.
The Veech family is not a nice fam-
ily - even the name is nauseous - but
no one will deny that it is interesting.
The book centers in Mary and Kenny.
Mary is a type frequently found in
novels and second-rate movies, a scarlet
woman with a heart of gold. This color
combination is usually effective, if not
startling, and it is equally successful
here, Mistress of the town's big boss,
Mary devotes her hard-earned salary
to the family and is the real head of
the tribe. She is a strong, silent woman
who is usually smoking a cigarette,
another standard piece of equipment
for the evil-but-essentially-good heroine.
But even if Mary is an obvious kind of
character we like her. She is "kind to
Bill Dodge, a poor worker with a big
family; she gives sister Josie an evening
dress when it means everything to her;
she alone can handle big brother Ernie
in one of his roaring drunks. Above
all she has profound faith in the family.
"Jen's a good kid. She don't use her
head, but she's a good kid," she says of

her wild young sister. None of the
Veetches seems to use his head but Mary
stands by faithfully.
Kenny, the villain-hero of the novel,
is, like Mary, usually smoking a cig-
arette; it is almost a symbol of the un-
derstanding between them. There aren't
many polite words which will describe
Kenny. He is so thoroughly objectionable
that at no time do we feel sympathy
for him, although the women in Whist-
el Stop idolize him. He is the hero of the
village youths, who admire him for
his prowess in love and life. Kenny's
cruelty is seen repeatedly; in his break-
ing with Rita because he has grown
tired of her, in his brutality to Franny
as she lies on her deathbed. Kenny is
hard, not just morally, but in the sense
that life doesn't dent him, for as he
tells Carl, "The only way to keep living
is to be hard and at the same time to
take things easy."
Ma Veech, who is apparently un-
daunted by bier brood of adders, does not
always come off as a character. Some-
how one doesn't mind the other Veeches
making obscene remarks and doing un-
mentionable things, but Ma Veech does-
n't ring true on such occasions. She re-
proves the children for rattling off a
string of oaths which would do credit to
the armed forces with, "My, my, what
language," and calmly discusses the
latest case of village illegitimacy with
her other offspring. Not that we fear
for the morals of the Veeches, but it
makes Ma Veech seem unreal. Ma is
strong in trying to protect her family
and yet weak in that she turns to Mary
At times she is such a motherly soul,
for help whenever things really go wrong,
wiping moral noses and baking pies,
that her other acts seem incongruous.
Kenny, Mary, Ma, Ernie, the elder
brother, and Jen, one of the twins, are
Veeches true to the blood. They make
the most of life instead of fighting it.
Unruffled they take it in their stride.
Feebly, the dissenting side of the family,
Pa, Carl, and Josie, try to fight back.
Pa is ineffectual and unimportant, al-
though at times he weakly takes the
side of decency and public opinion. He
keeps after Kenny, for instance, for his
debaucheries and says in a delicious'bit
of unconscious irony, "Why my father
would have horsewhipped me for doing
that." Carl is a dreamer, soft and eas-
ily bruised, the exact opposite of Kenny.
He is revolted by his family but is too
spineless to do anything about it. In
the end he admits that he wishes he
could see life as they see it, so that he
would be able "to live hard, to drink
hard, love hard, and hate hard," but
he can't.
Josie alone shows strength in her re-
bellion against the family. In part her
fight is due to pride but often it is simply
moral indignation. She looks at Mary
through the eyes of conventional decency
- Mary is an immoral woman and that's
that. She tells Jen, her twin, that she
is common, dissolute, and unmoral,
which is exactly what she is. She loathes
Kenny and refuses to worship at his
shrine. Often her moral indignation is
shallow. She cries out, for example, when
Mary finally marries Lew Lentz, who
has kept her for years. But in the end,
the Veeches are too much for Josie. We
can see it coming when she accepts the
evening dress from Mary; her conscience
tells her it was bought with stained
money but she takes it nevertheless. Jo-
sie's end comes when she lets herself be
drawn into a runaway marriage with
Clim, the town Lothario. Thus ironically
enough Josie's desire for escape leads to
her complete defeat, for there is no es-
cape after this sordid business. With
resignation she gives up all dreams of
a decent home, nice clothes, respectable
people, and a chance to hold her head
up in the world. The blood of the Veech-

The Time Is Now,
by Pierre van Paassen,
Dial P ress,1941 -
T HIS IS, as its title indicates, another
in the "Hitler'll get ya if ya don't
watch out" series. In the brief scope of
eighty pages Van Paassen presents with
great assurance and almost no qualifi-
cation an argument for immediate
American participation in the war. The
analysis is presented with a considerable
display of political and historical erudi-
tion which at once gives the reader the
feeling that Van Paassen reaches con-
clusions on the basis of superior know-
ledge. This combined with the great cer-
es is her blood and she can't get away
from it.
Jen, hard and common though she is,
frequently wins our sympathy by voic-
ing the realistic side of the argument in
answering Josie. She defends Mary, for
Mary is kind and good and everyone likes
Mary. For Jen that is the true morality,
even though it isn't what convention de-
mands. And she sums up the case for the
Veech family: "There's lots of places I'd
rather be than here, but as long as I
am here, I don't see any sense in tearing
myself to pieces wanting to be some-
where else."
Novels like Cardine Slade's The Tri-
umph of Willie Pond turns similar ma-
terial into a document for social reform,
but readers looking for a message in
Whistle Stop will be disappointed, unless
it is a warning to keep away from the
Veeches. In describing the case of Bill
Dodge, the abused workman, it looks
as if Miss Wolff might be heading in the
direction of social refosm, but she quick-
ly veers away after using it to throw
light on Ernie. These, however, are but
a drop in the Veech slop-bucket, for
Whistle Stop is simply the story of the
Veeches. Therein lies its strength and
possibly its weakness.
The novel does not deserve unqualifi-
ed praise. For one thing, the whole story
is highly improbable. But once the read-
er gets over the initial jolt and is willing
to accept the situation, it is comparative-
ly clear sailing. One reviewer has sug-
gested that certain characters, Carl, Pa,
and Ma, be dropped out. Ma Veech, I
believe, should be retained, for. al-
though she is not handled too well, she
is necessary as a cohesive force helping
to give the family unity. I could get
along without Jud, the boarder, and
Franny is given more prominence than
she deserves. Lew Lantz, the rather art-
ificial underworld boss, is straight out
of a Jimmy Cagney movie, but could
hardly be left out since much of the
plot revolves around hin. Whistle Stop
is also marred by digressive sub-plots,
several of which, particularly Kenny's
flight, might be separate short stories.
Some, perhaps, will be offended by the
suggestion of an incestuous relationship
between Kenny and Mary, but Miss
Wolff handles it so well, that although
the idea may be offensive the presenta-
tion is not. Furthermore, it is not put
in to shock the reader but rather plays
an important part in the plot.,
The virtues of the book far outweigh
its flaws. It is strong stuff but beauti-
fully done and Miss Wolff deserves all
kinds of praise, primarily for the ability
she exhibits in scenes and dialogue. You
may not find the Veeches as refined
as Judge Hardy's family, but I assure
you they are much more interesting.
If this is the kind of book the Hopwood
Prizes produce I say more power to them
and to Miss Wolff.
-Richard Boys

tainty with which many assertions oth-
erwise unproved are set forth, makes
the argument at first very convincing,
Briefly, Van Paassen's thesis is as fol-
lows: (1) Hitler and the Nazi are
out to conquer the world and will never
stop fighting until they hafe succeed-
ed or been destroyed. (2) If the United
States fails to enter the war at once,
Germany in collaboration with Russia
and Japan will conquer all of Africa,
India and the Far East. (3) In this
event the "battle of the Atlantic" will
be relatively unimportant. England cut
- off from all sources of supply by Amer-
ican domination of strategic shore posi-
tions on the Atlantic and Mediterranean
will be bombed and blockaded into sub-
mission. (4) The defense of the United
States depends upon the defense of
Africa. Our Maginot line is a "Green-
land-Dakar-Capetown line." (5) Conse-
quently the only way to defend the
United States is to defend Africa which
means immediate entry into the war.
The first steps in the argument have
considerable plausibility and are backed
by some evidence. The complementary
nature of Russian and German interests,
however, is merely asserted and seems
open to some question, while the picture
of Stalin "trembling in the Kremlin"
is not very convincing. I doubt if anyone
knows as much about Russia as Van
Paassen claims to know.
The last steps in the argument for
American participalion are extremely
weak. It is merely asserted, with no
sort of proof, whatever, that South
Amerea is completely indefensible once
Germany has taken Dakar, and that the
United States cannot be defended once
South America is lost. This may be
true, for all I know, but no proof is
offered.
Finally Van Paassen's argument for
intervention is weak because he gives no
attention whatever to the costs of war,
He predicts that Hitler can be defeated
only in a long war but this point is in
the midst of an impassioned plea for the
defense of Christian Democracy. The ef-
fects of a war on this democracy are not
even mentioned. Van Paassen simply
fails to recognize that a rational de-
cision to go to war must depend on a
careful weighing of the probable costs
of war with the probable costs of a
German victory and that there are a
great many more uncertainties in the
situation than he seems ready to admit.
- James Duesenberry
SOLD AMERICAN
(Continued from Page Nine)
and talk, bantering one another. One of
them has a wad of long-green leaves in
his mouth. They leave behind them a
litter of leaves and leaf fragments where
they have pulled out the "hands" for
inspection.
They breeze through the rest of the
baskets. The prices are low. Penn usually
has to change his tune and go down from
the warehouseman's figure instead of
rising above it. It does not take much
calculation on my part to see that the
crop has sold for a good deal less than
eighteen cents.
The warehousemen weigh up the to-
bacco in a little while and give Pete
two checks. They are for a hundred and
twelve dollars apiece.
Pete looks at his check, feels the
stamped figures, taps the edge of the
check against his fingers. "Well," he
says slowly, "I can shut up that bas-
tard Fisher's mouth a while anyway."

DEEP UNDER
THIS SNOW
(Continued from Page Three)

well as she that it was over and I
sobbed out wild things. She looked at me
with hurt frowns and once said, "Don't."
That was almost the last she said, but
the last was, "Why doesn't the snow
come?"
Snow is falling here now. All the
slopes and hilltops are thick with soft
white, and the oak outside her room, the
wood-house roof where she could see,
and the window is brushed with snow
down; while it keeps coming softly
falling down covering all above slow-
ly. But deep under this snow is our
autumn summer spring; and though it
covers all men's present kingdoms, on
those it does not fall.

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