“He couldn’t recall a single night that hadn’t been hard to get through, either because nothing happened or because too much did.”

H. L. Davis’s novel is getting frustrating, not because it is terrible, but because he nearly achieves escape velocity often enough to make it irritating that he keeps bailing back out to Earth.  There is a good stretch, right in the middle of the novel, where Honey in the Horn makes what appears at first to be a significant turn.  Having piled up a ridiculous plot, that’s overly reliant on investing me in the trials and tribulations of young romance between two characters whose relationship makes no sense to me, he simply cuts and runs—or rather, Clay Calvert does, and for a while the open road stretches before him.  Freed of the conventions and conventional “misunderstandings” of a romance plot, he heads for wild country and meets some odd characters.  The narrator starts to give a much deeper sense of setting, and develops situations in such a way that the story starts to look different—it even redeems some earlier passages that I’d previously paid little attention to.  I feel like I’m finally setting out on something worthwhile—a picaresque novel in the tradition of Candide (without the satire) and Huckleberry Finn (but almost entirely without the humor).  Nowhere near as good as either of those novels, but a classic plot structure that I could see Davis getting some mileage out of as a way to give us his Oregon travelogue.  I relax just a little, start to enjoy some of the better moments as they come along, and am optimistic for the first time in the novel.

Aeneas Bearing Anchises from Troy, by Carle va...

Carle van Loo's depiction of Aeneas bearing Anchises from Troy. Would that Aeneas could get me a good distance from the rest of this novel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which was a terrible idea, since about nine pages later the whole creaking plot comes careening back around the road on the wheels of a battered old wagon, and Davis commits himself to the hackneyed crapola he’d managed to get loose of, as though Ishmael had swum back to the Pequod to lash himself to the mast as it was going down, as though Aeneas had run back into burning Troy leaving Anchises and Ascanius to fend for themselves.  Utterly baffling.

I guess I’m overstating the case—at its worst, the novel isn’t a total train-wreck.  It’s Laughing Boy without much of anything in the way of psychological depth; it’s something like Lamb In His Bosom but without the corny dialects and the Jerry Springer overtones (and, therefore, better than that novel).  If you’re looking for a very poor man’s Mark Twain, H. L. Davis might fit the bill, but to even set them next to each other implies a wit and a showman’s talent in Davis that he really doesn’t exhibit.  I can tell that he’s trying to offer some wry commentary on the lives of rural Oregonians, but the commentary is so often ham-handed that it doesn’t strike me as very insightful.  There’s something enjoyable about the constant change of scenery (we’ve made it west to the rugged Pacific coast now), but I can’t see that it’s a book worth reading for that alone.

It’s hard to pinpoint how I feel about the book—as is probably evident by the hemming and hawing I do throughout this post.  At its best, I feel like I’m getting into something really readable and maybe a bit clever, and at its worst, I can’t believe I have to read another 200 pages of this tripe.  I think it spends a bit more time hovering at the low end of the spectrum, but I can’t tell if that’s true, or if I’ve just read way too many of these “troubled young lovers” Pulitzer winners (most of which are either pretty bad, or else good in spite of that subplot) and it’s making me more impatient than most folks would be.  Certainly there are a lot of really popular romantic comedies out there with scripts I think are terribly lazy and unoriginal.  It could be I’m not reading this right.  All I can do now is try and make some headway.

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“Little Jane Ward sat at her father’s left hand at the family breakfast table, her sleek, brown pigtailed head bent discreetly over her plate.”

So begins the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes, recipient of the award in 1931.  The story thus far—I have read Part 1 of the novel—fixates on Jane Ward’s youth, and frankly much of it can be encapsulated by the image presented in that opening sentence.  Jane is smaller than the people and events that surround her, happy to be the girl not in the spotlight, deferential to the opinions and decisions made by others (especially her family).  Part 1 is titled “Andre”, and much of it does concern Jane’s teenage feelings (very chaste) for a brooding artist, the son of an employee at the French consulate.  Their friendship (and romance) is disapproved of in a very stereotypically upper-middle-class fashion by Jane’s mother and older sister—veterans of the blog will recognize some elements of Booth Tarkington’s Alice Adams and Louis Bromfield’s Early Autumn, and there are certainly echoes of both here.  Frankly I’m growing a bit tired of the retreads on this storyline: I am certain that “young person growing up middle class, yearning for the luxuries possessed by their rich condescending friends but not quite able to escape their family’s gravity” was a story that resonated with a lot of young Americans back then (maybe still today?  I somehow don’t think so), but man is it getting tiresome.  Barnes may have the skill to pull this off, but so far it doesn’t seem like it.  This won’t be as off-putting as Tarkington because Barnes seems to like Jane and want the best for her, but that’s not going to make the next 500+ pages much easier to bear.

The fundamental problem is that Jane is a young woman who lets everyone else define her.  She’s the dutiful daughter to her parents, the devoted pining lover for Andre, the supportive friend to brilliant little Agnes, her buddy, but Jane isn’t really anything for herself.  She has no skills to speak of—she cannot cook or sew, she has no interest in business or writing or teaching—and so she is returning home from Bryn Mawr College at the end of Part 1 to “debut”.  She has no degree from Bryn Mawr and wouldn’t know what to do with one.  Her family has a little money, but basically she’s entering the social scene with Elizabeth Bennet’s long-term prospects, but without either her wit or her ambition.  The only young man she really wants to marry is a penniless French artist her family would never approve of.  She feels a sort of enthusiasm for his art largely because she loves him, but she hasn’t really envisioned what it would be like to be Andre’s wife, and her blinkered American middle-class upbringing will make her painfully unable to cope with the kind of environments she’d enter as his wife.  I have no idea if she’ll marry him or if she’ll be snapped up by some semi-wealthy young fellow in the Chicago social scene, but either way this is going to end badly….and very slowly.  It’s hard to see what Barnes is trying to explore, though, and so I’m pessimistic at the outset.

The one really compelling thing about the book for me is the setting.  It begins in Chicago in the 1890s, which was a surprise and delight for me.  You may perhaps remember, long ago, in my very first post on my very first Pulitzer novel (His Family, 1918), I reflected on the novel’s New York setting, and wondered what it would be like to live in a city you read about in a novel.  The answer is that it is both very distracting and adds a layer of depth I’d not really experienced while reading before.  Jane’s world as a child is made up of streets I know well.  I ate dinner last Tuesday about three blocks from the Wards’ house; I walked down Chicago Avenue the other day just about exactly along the route that Andre took when carrying Jane’s books to school for her.  Add to that the fact that I recently read two books about Chicago in the 1890s (The Devil in the White City and City of the Century), and this is an environment I feel very at home in—Jane’s visit to the Columbian Exposition, her waiting under the Water Tower, her comments about riding streetcars and going to plays in the Auditorium, all very vivid for me.  And distracting—at one point, I had to get out a map to see if Muriel and Flora live in the neighborhood I thought they did (and they do).  I like it, though, and I’m hoping I get some more Chicago-set literature out of the Pulitzer quest.  It makes me want to go back and re-read a couple of the novels, especially So Big which spends most of its second half in Chicago.  Maybe someday I will (for now, Excelsior!).

As a result of all this (and other thoughts I’ve voiced here recently), the thing looming for me right now is class—as in, economic grouping.  These early Pulitzers are often exceptionally class-conscious: characters are paralyzingly ashamed of their background, or hyper-aware of the lower status of someone else at the party.  It’s my sense that Americans don’t feel this way anymore, and I wonder where the shift takes place.  I want to emphasize—I am not arguing class no longer matters in the United States.  To the contrary, I think we’re more deeply divided economically than ever.  But I think our personal image, the rhetoric that we use about ourselves and our communities, masks this much more heavily than was true in the novel I’m reading, and others that preceded it.  Is it the Great Depression that changes this dynamic?  Is it a dynamic that’s more prevalent back East, and which I think is faded just because I grew up “out West” in Seattle?  Is it maybe just something that most people feel and I don’t for some reason?

This intersects with my continued musings about the fact that I allegedly am now living in the “pocket of poverty” in my neighborhood.  Is it clear to others in a way it’s not to me that these blocks are worse off than others nearby?  Or is it an illusion—something people believe out of prejudice or fear or an inability to see how neighborhoods grow and change?  I’ve been reading some blog posts recently about some really unpleasant racial profiling incidents, and more generally about the really disproportionate fear that whites have about violent/criminal behavior perpetrated by racial minorities.  It seems like most white Americans tense up a little when walking past a group of young black or Latino teenage boys—most of us don’t call that “racism”.  We call it “gang activity” or “why are all these kids on the streets” or whatever else lets us believe that our fears are well-founded.  And we can always find an incident in the paper or on the local news that reassures us about how right we are.  It troubles me.

This has gone a bit far afield from Years of Grace, but I’m sensing my posts on the novel may drift in this fashion—it’s simply too basic a plot, too plain and safe a book to really grab me and force me to think about important issues.  So I’m going to feel a bit more free to spin off the book into some topics I’m pondering: mostly questions, I think, since answers are much harder to find, and I’d rather make you think than tell you to agree with me.  Anyway, Barnes is writing about a woman growing up at the dawn of the 20th Century.  A lot is ahead of her—wars and epidemics and suffrage movements and Prohibition and plenty more besides.  I hope Barnes lets that world through to Jane Ward, and that Jane has enough backbone to engage with the world rather than be cowed by it.  The evidence so far is not very encouraging, but an open mind will be maintained—in the meantime, have a great Labor Day weekend!

“Laughing Boy went off alone to wrestle with gods: Slim Girl turned to loneliness as a tried friend and counsellor.”

Yes, that’s right, after 6 months this blog is back doing what it does best…meticulous blow-by-blow coverage of the field of mediocrities that managed to win Pulitzer after Pulitzer in the 1920s and 1930s.  Fortunately (and without meaning to) I left this relative quagmire from one of its few tiny hills that rise above the waterline—Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge.  In case you’ve forgotten, you can of course click the necessary tags to read the rest of my posts, but the short summary version is that it’s a novel about a Navajo teenager named “Laughing Boy”, and, where I left off in June/July, it had managed not to be wretchedly condescending, racist, or unbelievable in its depiction of life among the tribes of the Southwest at the time.

And so far he’s holding course, more or less.  There’s a little stumble here and there, which I think arises mostly from his desire to make their speech patterns distinctive.  They sound like Navajo speaking English as a second language…like intelligent people having real conversations, mind you, but still limited by the language.  This rises above the unbearable dialogue in Scarlet Sister Mary (whose speech patterns I cannot bear to reproduce yet again), but it still feels like they’re not given room to be fully mature human beings in dialogue.  La Farge compensates, though, by making their internal psychology very sensitive and real.  Laughing Boy is a wonderful adolescent—distractable, girl-crazy, proud, unsure of himself, aloof but also a little childish beneath that exterior.  He isn’t Huck Finn (or Scout Finch, for that matter), but there are times when this book feels like a decent kid brother to those deservedly famous coming-of-age tales (which only a real snob might call bildungsromans, and I’m not quite that snobbish).  It doesn’t have the same depth, or the same moral quandaries (as yet).  But I get the sense that La Farge genuinely likes and identifies with his protagonist, and he’s interested to see how he handles the process of stepping over the line into manhood.

That line is about to be crossed.  Laughing Boy has decided to marry the intriguing “Slim Girl” he’s seen at the dances.  He doesn’t care that she’s an orphan, that she was raised at a school run by whites and has no real place in the tribe.  That’s certainly a well-worn conceit for a story—the young man whose passion makes him fall in love with an exotic young outsider whose status is condescended to by his family—but La Farge is good enough with character that I feel I’m willing to care regardless.  The novel benefits, I think, from my relatively high interest in character (the plot, incidentally, is very meandering and formless…if vivid characters in a wandering plot doesn’t suit you, steer clear).  And I can tell from all La Farge’s hints that he wants to explore that boundary between the “native” and the “white” world.  I don’t know how sensitively he can do this.  He’s not an insider in native culture, or even an outsider descended from insiders (as far as I know).  It may be that the story will founder in that dangerous shallow—certainly few (if any) American authors prior to 1930 were able to handle racial division and tension with any kind of wisdom or grace.  But if he can manage it even a little, I think it will be a worthwhile journey.  So here’s hoping it continues well.

Last comment (and perhaps something that will spark comment): Am I wrong about American authors prior to 1930?  What’s the earliest American novel you can think of that handles race and racial divides well?  I think we can take To Kill A Mockingbird as our baseline—we know that in 1961 a white woman named Harper Lee could do this well (I think she does very well, but I’m willing to pare it down to “well” for the sake of general agreement).  What authors—particularly white authors—before her rose even close to that level of insight?  I am eager to hear your thoughts.

“It was like a thing ordained, and life with him would be exciting, a thrilling affair.”

This quotation describes Sybil’s enthusiasm for Jean, the son of a French man and an American woman, whom she met in Paris, fell hopelessly in love with, and has pursued since his arrival in Durham for a visit.  But it also sheds light on her mother, Olivia, whose marriage to Anson Pentland seems to have been a thing ordained—but of course with Anson life has been and will be boring, a stultifying affair.  O’Hara makes Olivia’s blood run hot, but she will never leave her husband for him.  And her husband would never dream of inciting the scandal a divorce would bring, even if he discovered her wandering eye and straying heart.  They’re an interesting pair of women.

It’s hard to say what Bromfield wants to draw out of the story, other than that he seems to be good at avoiding cliche.  Sybil and Jean fall in love, but it’s obvious they’re doomed at the outset.  They’re in love with an idealized vision of romance that each has embodied for the other during long months apart.  If they do find a good relationship in the long run, it won’t have much to do with how they feel right now.

The character I’m most impressed by, though, is Olivia.  It would be easy to make her into a “wronged woman” who casts her lot in with the rebels, thumbs her nose at the old fuddy-duddies, and dashes off into the moonlight with O’Hara.  But she can’t be that woman, and luckily Bromfield knows it.  He shows us the subtle changes of opinion in her.  It’s clear that her acceptance of her marriage to Anson isn’t a bitter one—Anson’s inability to even contemplate divorce is part of his nature, his character, and always has been.  She can no more resent him for it than she could resent a dog for barking or a bird for eating worms.  And as time goes on, it’s fascinating to watch her move within the strained relationships all the Pentland women have with each other.  Strangely, it’s the daring iconoclast, Sabine, that Olivia shuts out more and more, as she realizes she can’t trust Sabine’s discretion.  And Aunt Cassie, the nosy busybody who infiltrates every family affair with her outmoded views of the world, transforms slowly into an object of pity, at least…and sometimes it seems Olivia is gentler still with a woman who was a victim of circumstance in many ways.

I like that kind of subtlety—Bromfield is not as good with language as Wharton, but I think his characters are almost as rich.  And the plot he’s devised creates more ambiguity: when Olivia finally finds what her insane mother-in-law had “hidden” in the attic, a truth about the family is revealed.  But as much as it alters Olivia’s sense of who they are and what it means to be a “Pentland”, she doesn’t share it with the others—she knows it would destroy her husband and her father-in-law to know the truth.  And as time goes by, it’s clear that there is a strength that comes from being a “Pentland”, from having a sense of pride about the past and about the good work the family has built up in Durham.  It raises interesting questions for me about family—as genealogists, my mother and I have found details from time to time that reveal less-than-positive sides of our family’s past.  Is it right to dig them up?  Is it right to share them with others?  As much as we like to believe that “the truth sets you free”, I wonder: free from what?  Olivia seems to think that the awful freedom she would give the Pentlands in revealing what she knows is a free-fall, a spiral into the unknown and a loss of identity.  Is it somehow better to try to live up to the image that never existed, to be inspired by a dream because you think it is a reality?

I’ve cruised a long way in this book (though you wouldn’t know it by the number of posts—sorry, folks, grad school dominates life right now), and may only post once or twice more before a review, since I’m over 2/3 done.  I don’t think the book is building to a big “message” at the end, but I really like it.  I hope that feeling lasts, since it would be great to raise the average review on this site from the depths that The Able McLaughlins dragged it to.

“There was pork for supper. She was to learn that there always was pork for supper.”

It’s tough times for our little Selina, whose gambler father was killed by a stray bullet fired by a jealous wife, as she heads off into the prairies at the age of nineteen to teach in a one-room schoolhouse and live with a Dutch immigrant family.  Well, “tough times” is a bit of an exaggeration.  Selina, whose imagination always runs away with her (“It was after reading Pride and Prejudice that she decided to be the Jane Austen of her time.“), had envisioned a life as a sort of transplanted Katrina von Tassel in a Midwestern version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  As it turns out, life among Dutch farmers has a lot more to do with dried blood fertilizer and cabbages than it does Gothic horror/romance (at least for now).

It’s a fun little book…we’re still light-years away from the title character, Dirk “So Big” De Jong, who is as yet not even a twinkle in Selina’s eye.  Still, I’m happy following her around in this light little story.  I can’t pretend that Ferber is breaking new ground with the plot—naive young schoolteacher from the big city comes to the farmland to find that there is much her sophisticated education hasn’t taught her…gee, do you think these simple rural folk will grow to love and accept her, and that one of their strapping young lads will sweep her off her feet in rugged yet sentimental fashion?  But Ferber is good at other things, particularly creating believable and interesting characters, and writing decent dialogue.  She manages to write fractured English for these Dutch immigrants that sounds very believable (not like the faux Scottish brogues that Margaret Wilson slathered all over her novel….which I have to stop talking about, or my blood pressure will never drop back down to normal), and makes them quaintly amusing without (quite) turning them into caricatures.

It’s another book whose real point is obscure at the outset.  I’d suspect the simplistic plot I mentioned above, but that’s clearly only going to be enough to get her married off.  How does she end up a washerwoman back in Chicago, raising a ten year old boy (apparently alone)?  Ferber’s given me just enough to pique my interest, and not enough yet that I can connect the dots.

What’s odd to me is that the family doesn’t speak much Dutch at home, as far as I can tell.  I’ve heard that immigrant parents were pretty militant about enforcing English on their children to hasten assimilation, which makes sense in a diverse urban environment, but was it really also the practice out in a rural community where seemingly most of the inhabitants share a common ancestry?  Perhaps I need to read a bit more about this prairie society before jumping to any conclusions.

Reflection XXX: In which characters behave inexplicably, and the reader and protagonist both contemplate suicide

I realized my last post didn’t really provide much context for the story.  I don’t want to get into the plot much, but I guess if any of this is going to make sense to you, I need to provide something.  So, the McLaughlins of the title are one of a confused network of Scottish families, all of whom are interrelated somehow—a society not unlike Wharton’s New York (in that one respect).  Their eldest son, Wully (whose true first name is either unknown or I missed it), is a soldier for the North who enlisted alongside his younger brother, and who watched that little brother die in battle.  Wully has often been injured or imprisoned–the details are always fuzzy.  A neighbor family, the McNairs, consists of a father (back in Scotland—and has been for years, despite the narrator giving only vague indications as to why), a mother (dies early in the book, having been preceded in death by most of her children), and three or four young ones, of whom the oldest, Chirstie, is perhaps 17 years of age.  Wully falls in love with Chirstie in a single conversation (which I related to you) before returning to the service for a few months more at the end of the war.

The portion I’ve read covers Wully’s return to find that—surprise, surprise—the girl with whom he exchanged almost no words (but lots of “fearless” kisses) behaves coldly to him.  Apparently while he’s spent months dreaming of marrying her, and has arrived home figuring they’re basically engaged, she’s not anxious to speed that along at all.  She, in fact, basically orders him out of her house, after his response to her coldness is to move towards her in pretty physically aggressive fashion.  A real model of chivalry, our Wully.  He cannot go on with life, and contemplates ending it all.  But, lucky him, at church one morning he catches her looking at him during prayer—which is, as anyone knows, an indication of unmistakable romantic interest.  So he sings the final Psalm loudly and happily, and then races to her house, only to discover her sitting on the porch in tears.  Wully is confused.  Poor Wully.

So, what has Wilson taught me about bad writing?  To begin with plot (since I’ve just related most of it, thus far), it’s clear that bad writing involves characters whose behavior is unjustifiable given the circumstances.  Every indication we have of Wully’s character suggests that he is the stable and rational child in the family.  I accept that “stable and rational” types can go overboard…but surely it would take more than a kiss standing by a well to do so?  I know, I know—a lot of movies and novels are built on the premise that every buttoned-down introvert is just a step away from behaving madly and wildly at the sight of a beautiful human being and the thought of romance.  But isn’t that more the way love feels than the way love truly is?  Wully just seems to be irrational when it serves the plot, and calm and composed when that’s convenient.  Bad writing.

And style-wise (don’t worry, I won’t include any excerpts this time, out of consideration for our digestive systems), bad novel writing seems to consist of disjointed moments.  Wilson doesn’t bother to set up emotional moments: she simply announces that they are happening.  Boring or mundane events are narrated in the same casual manner as critical and meaningful events, which leads to either apathy or a sense of frustrated anticipation.  Mostly, though, I am told over and over again “facts” that were blatantly obvious.  When someone sees the woman they are in love with, I hardly need to be told it is exciting for them.  If a mother sees that her son is ill, taking additional sentences to note that she’s concerned and hopes he will feel better soon seems pretty pointless—now, I can envision that a different author could use these sentences to reveal important things about their relationship, or the emotional state of the mother, or any of half-a-dozen other useful topics.  But Wilson seems frightened of writing a sentence with a comma in it, leaving me reading simple declarative sentences that would be useful if I was reading about the economy of Bolivia, but neither engage nor usefully inform me of anything.

Will Wully marry the woman of his dreams? (Uh, yes.)  Will Pa remember all the words to the Psalm after dinner? (Has he ever forgotten?  No.)  Will Chirstie’s father return from Scotland? (At a critical juncture that neatly wraps up the plot, almost as though he’s an actor waiting in the wings for his cue?  No, surely not!)  Reading this novel is like eating bacon that tastes like unseasoned green cabbage: it’s unexciting, it overwhelms me with an absence of taste, and despite its attempts to convince me otherwise, I’m pretty sure it isn’t good for me.  See you next time.

“How shall I explain? … It’s always so. Each time you happen to me all over again.”

Newland Archer is becoming a sad little figure, but no less fascinating.  His desire to escape his society marriage to May Welland for the exotic allure of the Countess Ellen Olenska is getting caught up in many things—her lingering marriage to the unpleasant Count, her perhaps-not-concluded connection to the Frenchman who helped her “escape” her marriage, the financial ruin that Mr. and Mrs. Beaufort (relatives to both Ellen and May) now find themselves in, along with its resulting chaos in the tiny in-bred world of “the best families in New York”—it’s hard to see how much of the relationship is real, and how much is Newland getting swept up in the mere idea of something else.

I’m struck by Wharton’s repeated insistence that Newland can’t really remember Ellen…that he thinks of her constantly, but every time he sees her again, he realizes he’d forgotten what she looks like, how her voice sounds.  This most recent time he even comments on it to her directly (in the title to this post).  Am I meant to conclude that Newland doesn’t really care about her?  Or that his attachment to her is more spiritual/emotional than it is physical?  It’s hard to say.

What isn’t hard to say is that Ellen and May are both wiser about the world than Newland is.  May, in particular, manages to play the perfect upper class wife (so restrained, no cross word ever escapes her lips), but within that tension she manages to both keep Ellen well away from her husband, and communicate to Newland in no uncertain terms that she knows what’s happening, and she has no intention of losing him.  There is something both sad and admirable about May, who suspected before the wedding that Newland could not be fully hers, and married him anyway.  I hope Newland realizes her real value, and avoids hurting her any more than he already has.

And Ellen is no less realistic than May…and no less concerned about Newland.  Ellen’s great advantage, though, is the ability to tell him directly the truths that she is wise enough to understand, and that no one else in society could possibly tell him.  There are many passages that show how unequally matched she and Newland are, but I include the following as an exceptionally revealing exchange:

“Is it your idea, then, that I should live with you as your mistress—since I can’t be your wife?” she asked.

The crudeness of the question startled him: the word was one that women of his class fought shy of, even when their talk flitted closest about the topic. … Her question pulled him up with a jerk, and he floundered.

“I want—I want somehow to get away with you into a world where words like that—categories like that—won’t exist.  Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter.”

She drew a deep sigh that ended in another laugh.  “Oh, my dear—where is that country?  Have you ever been there?” she asked; and as he remained sullenly dumb she went on: “I know so many who’ve tried to find it; and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo—and it wasn’t at all different from the old world they’d left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.”

How sharp she is, how devoid of “pretense”—she has seen the world and is weary of it, and not even love (for she truly does love Newland, I think) will erase the memories that are etched into her.  How can we blame Newland for loving her, at least a little?  For all of the good, admirable things about May, his wronged wife, there are no such bleak but true things in her heart for her to share with him, even if she would let herself be honest with him.  And May (and the rest of Newland’s friends and family) will never be honest with him: it may be an age of innocence, but it is also an age of deceit, where good people are expected to lie even to themselves (perhaps most of all to themselves).  My next post will be a review—by now you might have guessed that it will be a very positive one—and I’ll see what I make of the end of the book (which, even now, I couldn’t possibly predict with any confidence).