1945 Near Miss: Colcorton by Edith Pope

From the Dust Jacket:

In “Colcorton” Edith Pope introduces one of the really great characters of fiction-Abby Clanghearne. Growing up with a dreadful secret locked in her heart, striving always, through her brother Jared, to overcome the poverty and decay that have been her environment, Abby remains undaunted. Courageously, as she becomes adjusted to the situation, she accepts the ruin of her plans for Jared and, after his death, she takes on the responsibility of his widow and unborn child, and, at last, overcomes the horror of her secret by tremendous sacrifice, gaining an almost proportionate release from that horror.

The beauty of the Florida coast line comes alive in “Colcorton.” Whether it is the clean etched line of the great pine trees, the vast sparkling entity of the Atlantic, or the muted mysterious world of the swamp, Edith Pope makes you really see, hear, smell and feel the grandeur, the heartbreaking loveliness of this region. She transmits, without sentimentality, Abby’s love for this land that has been her whole life as well as her livelihood.

There are other unforgettable characters in this warm, deeply-moving book of people and the land they live on. Danny Strikeleather is one-wise and kind with eyes that make it impossible for anyone to lie to him. Beth Clanghearne is another-Beth, whose fragile appearance and quiet manner make people think of her as weak and stupid, but who becomes aware of a deep, almost animal, wisdom and strength within herself. And there is Clement Johnson, perpetually running from himself, weary, disillusioned, selfish, who finds a peace of short duration with the selfless, instinctively understanding Abby.

With its beauty of setting, its inevitability of outcome, and above all its brilliantly conceived and completely realized characters, “Colcorton” is a deeply satisfying book.

My Thoughts:

We return back to Florida in Edith Pope’s Colcorton, and while it shares some of the character and feel of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, Pope’s novel is one with much larger themes and much more complex characters. Instead of focusing on a young boy coming of age in the wilds of Florida, Colcorton follows the third generation of Floridians, Abby and Jared Clanghearne, whose grandfather was a slave and plantation owner on the Florida coast, and whose past wealth and land holdings are now but the faintest shadow of what they once were, due not only to the end of slavery, but also because of a dark secret that has kept Abby mostly isolated on the ruins of the old plantation house: her grandmother was black, and thus her family’s bloodline, according to the general white public, is “tainted,” and Abby and her brother Jared are at risk to be treated as black themselves, losing their friends, their livelihoods, and potentially even what little is left of their family’s property and money. Continue reading

The 1945 Novel Decision

In 1945, Orville Prescott of the New York Times replaced Lewis Gannett of the New York Herald Tribune, and the three jury members, if anything, had even more trouble coming to a consensus than before. Orville Prescott championed John Hersey’s World War II novel, A Bell for Adano, while Maxwell Geismar preferred Joseph Pennell’s The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters, and the chairman, John Chamberlain, argued for Edith Pope’s Colcorton. Like the year before, the jury report provided a list of each member’s preferences, this time ten books long apiece, and gave numerical values to the first five spots on each jury member’s list. The resulting tally found Pope’s Colcorton in first with 13 points, Hersey in second with 9 points, but Prescott just behind in third with 8 points. Each of the jury members went on to explain their thoughts on their choices in individual paragraphs.

Chamberlain writes that Colcorton is “the best novel of the year” for its “sheer ability to maintain a mood of mounting terror throughout a long novel in which the characters are fully created.” Though Geismar placed The History of Rome Hanks at the top of his list, he goes on to explain that “in some ways I like Colcorton better, though it is more limited, and flattens out in the end. And Prescott writes that the novel “transcends mere local color and achieves a note of psychological tragedy of almost Grecian grandeur.” Continue reading

1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin

IMG_2198

Plot Summary:

In a sensitive and full-dimensioned portrayal of American life, Martin Flavin has created a memorable character. By turns admirable, pitiable, tough, noble, weak, futile, and brilliantly effective, a lonely man going nowhere in the dark, Sam Braden mirrors thousands like him who have put their familiar stamp upon the American way of life.
He wanted wealth, and he got it. He wanted to belong to the social world in which the Wyatts moved so easily, and in time he did. Most of all he wanted Eileen Wyatt, and this too he achieved, but only after a fashion. To explain this average man who had wanted success above everything, and who achieved an enviable degree of it and yet who never escaped from the prison of his loneliness, Martin Flavin takes the reader back to the friendly, democratic world that existed along the Mississippi in the Eighties, to the influences which shaped the boy and fixed the pattern of the man.

My Thoughts:

Journey in the Dark is the story of Sam Braden, a self-made man from the American Midwest, who rises from a life of poverty to become a millionaire, and as might be suspected if you were assuming the novel would follow traditional storytelling clichés, Sam Braden then learns that having money isn’t everything. While there is a little more complexity to the story than that, the basic plotline seems an uninteresting and overused trope. However, the novel does have a few redeeming qualities.

First of all is the storytelling style itself. Many of the chapters are framed by Sam Braden taking a walk, a car ride, or making a commute, and as the places he passes trigger memories, we are given the bits and pieces of his past that add up to tell his story, little by little, memory by memory. There is a type of nostalgia channeled in the prose and framing of the story so the reader is given a linear story, but with the occasional hints and commentary of hindsight. We are given clues as to the successes and failures that Braden will experience in the future, and then shown all the bits of his story that lead up to those events. It’s a more subtle way of telling the story, layering and adding on parts of the story through subsequent nostalgic discourses. Continue reading

The 1944 Novel Decision

The same jury that recommended Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth the year before returned in its entirety for the 1944 selection. The jury was much more divided on their selection than even the year before, and so the report listed each jury member’s top four choices. The only two novels that appeared on both lists were John P. Marquand’s So Little Time and Martin Flavin’s Journey in the Dark. Christine Weston’s Indigo and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were included on two of the judges lists, while the third judge thought John Dos Passos’s Number One and Ira Wolfert’s Tucker’s People more deserving.

The chair of the jury, John Chamberlain, writes, “it is perhaps unfair to try to make a mathematically determined choice,” but does his best to do just that, by awarding different points for the placement of each book on each juror’s list, determining that Journey in the Dark would be in first place, followed by Indigo, and then So Little Time. The jury report lists it’s concerns about Marquand’s So Little Time, stating that “Marquand has had the prize before. The Pulitzer committee may want to pass him over in favor of … some other candidate.” They wrote that Indigo, being set in India, by an American author who lived quite some time in India, leaves the question “whether her work is properly to be considered a part of American literature.”

About Martin Flavin’s novel, the jury writes, “Journey in the Dark is American to the bone, it has a reflective brooding richness. And it deals honestly with an average man’s experience that may be typical,” (despite the fact that this “average man” becomes a millionaire, among many other atypical things). John Hohenburg later called Journey in the Dark a “rather turgid tale of a millionaire who went to work in a defense plant during the war” and notes that the Pulitzer Prize committee was “severely criticized” for awarding it the prize.

Currently Reading: Colcorton by Edith Pope