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October 26, 1940 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1940-10-26

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Page Twelve

TP ERSPECTI VES

BOOKS IN SEASON .. .

D/e fac 7Tone
New England: Indian Summer
By Van Wyck Brooks
Dutton, pp. 557, $3.75
(The writer offers no apology for the
for the tone or the harshness of-the fol-
lowing review. It is intended as an irri-
tant, solely.)
Van Wyck Brooks has scored another
triumph. New England: Indian Summer
is a best seller; it has been blurbed "ex-
citing," "fascinating," "remarkable"; it
has achieved the distinction of a pictor-
ial news story in LIFE; it would garner,
had its predecesor, The Flowering of New
England, not already done so, all the
literary awards in sight. Scholarship,
American readers are told for the hun-
dredth time, can be fun.
The not unexpected reception accorded
Mr. Brooks in his second volume in his
projected history of American literature
ONCE IN
649,740 TIMES
fast, big pieces of the margin fading
into the dark dry smoothness of the
wood. First one side seemed to go
fastest, then the other, until when
there was just a small sweat circle left
the whole thing seemed to go at once,
shrinking in fast from every side.
"Yeah," John said. "If he hadn't
dealt it himself - "
Red didn't look up from the place
where the spot had been. He didn't
move, or speak, but John shivered and
shut up.
The three sat there silent for long
minutes. No one moved.
The right hand, the one without a
little finger, closed the royal flush into
a neat heap, then shoved it into the
discard pile,
John wanted to get out. If he had lost
a pot like that. Carnahan couldn't
scare him, but he wanted to get out.
He shouldn't have made that crack
- But John didn't move
Brit didn't move. He could sit there
now the rest of his life. This chair suit-
ed him fine. It was cold outside.
Rag walked up the deck. He rolled
a little because the steel plates were
wet and slick. The fog had come down
thick. It shut away the bow, and the
lights on the after cabin were holes
in the grayness. Alongside the hull, just
beyond the two strands of cable that
was the rail, the water was oily black
running swiftly aft, coming up very
slowly, then going down again. From
out in the fog where you couldn't see
the water or anything there came
now and then a tiny splash, a wave or
a fish. In his pants pocket Rag's fist
clenched 'tightly a small ball of bills.
His face was wet from the fog. He
walked along, his rubber-soled shoes
going squeech, squeech on the greasy
damp deck.
Charley felt the heat of the stove
on his face as he tumbled the kettle of
potatoes into the big oven. It was warm
and good smelling in the galley, the
coal fire in the stove snapped, and the
round plate in the center was glowing
red hot.
"How'd ypu come out?" the cook asked
him.
"Aw, hell, I didn't get a decent hand
once," Charley said. He turned back
to the sink and clattered in the dish
water, running more hot water into the
pan, the smell of the cook's apple pies
baking in the other oven made his
mouth water. He whistled. Oh, bury
me not on the lone prairie.
Red looked up, not at John or Brit.
"Well, I guess that's all," he said.

is attributable to three factors: the un-
usual success of the first volume; the
grace and charm of the author's style;
the concern, during European crises, for
things American. The Flowering of New
England, contrary to most predictions
(made also about this book), did not
lead its readers to an avid perrusal of
primary works in American literature;
instead, it led them to desire even
more secondary, and piquant, accounts
filled with the "great men have been
among us" theme; the same stylistic
qualities attract readers to the second,
and now, more than in 1936, America's
attention is turned inward, - none too
critically - upon itself, its past achieve-
ment, its native culture. Since the pub-
lic is reading the book, one wishes that it
provided insight as well as pleasure, un
derstanding as well as amusement. The
wish will scarcely be fulfilled.
Mr. Brooks in New England: Indian
Summer (not a particularly happy title,
as the book goes on through the
winter of our discontent and into a sec-
ond spring) continues the cycloramic
representation of New England's "liter-
ary history" from 1865 to 1915, thus
recording in two volumes a century of
cultural achievement.
Adequate criticism of New England:
Indian Summer is impossible in the
space available, but some attention must
be given to structure and interpretation.
Despite its charm, the book lacks struc-
ture. For obvious reasons Mr. Brooks has
abandoned the pseudo-Spenserian cul-
ture brought together in the Flowering
of New England. That hypothesis, sound
or unsound affords the necessary coord-
ination of arrangement anu meaning to
make the book a structural whole. Now
Mr. Brooks says, somewhat lamely that
he has emphasized Boston again in order
to achieve "unity of place indispensable
in any attempt to picture a phase of
literary history so confused and complex
and marked by such multifarious com-
ings and goings." Surely, amid all this
complexity and confusion, some more
valid unifying principle than mere place
could be discovered. A unifying princi-
ple, it would be logical to expect, should
reflect the scholar's probings into the
complex pattern, of cause and effect, or
forces and reactions. "Boston" does not
unify. not even artificially. It is just
another place like Newport, Cambridge,
Beverly, Amesbury. The work is sprawl-
ing, disjointed. One chapter may center
The Brewer's Big Horses. A
By Mildred Walker. 441 pp.
Harcourt, Brace, New York. S7.50.
When Mildred Walker's third novel
'Doctor Norton's Wife" became a best
seller last year, the University's Hop-
wood Committee rightfully sat back and
beamed with pride. Miss Walker won
-her first literary fame in 1934 when
"Fireweed," her Hopwood winner was
published.
This summer Miss Walker triumphed
again in her fourth novel "The Brewer's
Big Horses," - a powerful story of
America's decadent mauve decade.
"The Brewer's Big Horses" is a fine
picture of life in a Michigan town at the
turn of the century. The society, the
customs, the mores, the bigotry, the
prejudices, the surge of developing
America is all obviously a subjective one,
and subjective presentation includes
criticism.
But her criticism is of too little value
to a turbulent American society today.
The novel that could be a motivating
story of America today, yes, even as
strong as Steinbeck's young classic, be-
comes a mere background, and the novel
becomes a story of one character who is

about place, the next time, and the next
upon a person.
Mr. Brooks does, however, attempt in-
terpretation of his facts; he suggests,
more frequently than he states, that
post-war materialism, post-transcen-
dental disillusion, philosophic and econ-
omic determinism, feminization of taste,
aesthetic barrenness, urbanization of the
New England spirit, European immigra-
tion and consequent dislocation of popu-
lation, the uprooting of men of educa-
tion and culture from this oil of popular
life, the lack of causes to champion were
responsible for New England's cultural
decline. But, just as the first volume
failed to give a satisfactory analysis of
either the meaning or the value of the
"flowering", so the second fails to set
forth a principle underlying all these
"causes of sterility." Once, in 1915
(America's Coming Age), Mr. Brooks
was constructive; he gave us the idea of a
"usable" past", the concept of "energy
in life." Before there could be cultural
advance: revolution. The trouble with
America between 1865 and 1915 lay in its
inability and disinclination to destroy
the social forms - political psychologi-
cal, economic, and aesthetic-which so-
lidified around the creative spirit. Mr.
Brooks might have made this point for
his readers had he turned to his premises
of twenty-five years ago. Rather, he
carefully, almost sadistically, uses pages
to describe the frustration, the defeat-
ism, the pettiness, the emptiness, the be-
wilderment, the futility of the artist in
the Gilded Age. It is a chronicle of "hol-
low men"; they failed because they could
not help themselves. Is it to be ever
thus? No. The New England writers
of the first two decades of this cen-
tury derived their strength from region-
alization, from planting themselves again
in the soil of New England! It is with
this innocent assertion, the old Jamesian
pilgrimage thesis, that Brooks concludes
his book.
The personalities, the verbal images,
and the tone are fascinating to the cas-
ual reader. The erudition, the antiquar-
ianism, the allusions and the quotations
are delightful to one who knows the lit-
erature of New England. But the person
who would know about either the lit-
erature or the history of the literature
must await a later historian. Let us hope
that when he arrives he will be possesed
of the urbanity and the gusto of Van
Wyck Brooks.
- Mentor L. Williams
not an important person. as interesting
and human as she might be.
The vividness with which she draws
characters. the ease with which she em-
bodies the spirit of a whole town in a
chapter, the subtlety with which she re-
veals feeling and emotion are evidence of
ability. Mildred Walker needs only to
lose the slight tinge of effeminate timid-
ity with which she looks at the world,
and she will quickly leave the "goods"
and take her place among the "greats".
She tries hard to be bold, to be strong,
to be virile in her approach to life. But
through it all comes the hint of an au-
thor inherently of a gentle nature.
The story itself is the story of Sara
Bolster, darling of a Main Street "Four
Hundred" who crosses the tracks to
marry a young German doctor, and
finds herself running a brewery to sup-
port her children, her in-laws and her
own family which clings to its pride
and predjudices but not its money. One
flaw stands out in the plot. Although
Sara becomes a shrewd business woman,
worldly and wise, and old in years she
remains somehow the naive youngster
who was first awed by the Brewer's Big
Horses. After twenty years she has fail-
ed to orient herself to life, she still
mourns (in attitude) the death of her
husband that will leave you upset for
chapters-but not for twenty years.
-Morton C. Jampel

You Can't Go Home Again,
By Thomas Wolfe
When Thomas Wolfe died in 1938
critics disagreed on whether or not
America had lost a great writer. Some
said he was a bastard child of literature
who spewed out torrents of words with-
out any objective purpose, without gny
concept of total form. Others saw him
as a man of genius struggling for def-
inition and felt that his death left a job
undone.
The publication of "You Can't Go
Home Again' must satisfy all that Thom-
as Wolfe was a wonderful artist who
worked through a confusion of fears
and uncertainties toward an under-
standing of his existence and who, in
this last novel, found faith in living.
I've read all four of Wolfe's novels to
get at what is printed in "You Can't Go
Home Again," and now that Wolfe does
come through with what living taught
him, the lesson is a simple one. He
had learned that there is a common
brotherhood among men; that neither
he nor any other man is different from
the people with whom he eats and sleeps
and talks and works; that the soul
which tortured him through more than
half of his life was the soul of every
man sharpened and intensified in his
own individuality.
Wolfe is not talking about himself
alone but about all people. He is like
Whitman, finding in himself all men
and feeling in himself the purpose that
there is in every man's life.
There is no wounded faun in "You
Can't Go Home Again." The self-pity
and cries of injustice which you read in
"Look Homeward Angel" are gone from
this book. Wolfe's lesson taught him
that the artist is a man like other men.
The publishers say this is the story of
a lost modern who found himself, and
that is about as good a way to put it
as any. He was lost in all the confusion
of an America booming through the
frenzied period of paper prosperity. He
was lost among people who he saw were
themselves lost in a fight which was a
fight for nothing. He saw his home
town burst into zealous activity; real-
estate skyrocketing, fortunes written in-
to mortgages, greedy madness shining in
the faces of the people.
When the market broke he heard
America denying the truth; trying des-
perately to assure itself that the old or-
der was not shattered but only shaken
and that soon there would be a return.
But he had learned to know that you
can't go home again. There is no going
back. There is only progress.
He derived his faith from the passion-
ate love which he felt for life- and
which he knew was felt by everyone. The
old order was gone and there was some-
thing new to be built. That is where
he found himself. He found that Ameri-
ca was young and had a destiny and that
every man had a destiny. He saw that
if men could find a purpose in living
that destiny would be fulfilled. He saw
that men would have to look at truth
with fresh eyes and ungreedy faces. "I
believe that we are lost here in Ameri-
ca," he wrote, "but I believe we 5halt
be found."
This is no novel that Wolfe wrote.
I don't know what to call it. It is writ-
ing about a life and the process of learn-
ing. It may be the last part of a great
novel which comprises four volumes.
The only long essay comes in a letter
which closes the book, a letter from
George Webber to a friend in which he
explains his life and announces his
faith in living. This essay is the essence
of all that Wolfe has ever written.
It is all he learned of life. It is clean,
simple prose, well-ordered, definitive.
If you have Wolfe's four novels you
have an entire life lived for you. I think
that is all there is to be said.
-Gerald Burns

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