1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin

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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

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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.

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