Saturday, July 24, 2010

Early Autumn, 1927

Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield tells the story of the Pentlands, a staid New England family. By extension, Bromfield offers an indictment on the "Pentlands" of high society in the early 1900s. They represent old money, Puritan values, and respectability. The story reads like a melodrama with secrets galore, family jealousies, poor marriages, and, in the end, the obligatory "all is not as it seems" twist. It would make a great soap opera. The story centers about Olivia, a wife of a "Pentland" who is nonetheless the most trusted person by the family patriarch. She is visited by an old friend with scores to settle, Sabine. Throughout the story we find out more and more about the family history complete with illegitimacies, pettiness, and forbidden love.

Bromfield so wants to write like Wharton. He even mentions her! His humor is blunt where Wharton's is subtle and witty. His characterization is obvious where Wharton lets her characters unfold gracefully. Finally, his word choice is stale. Thanks to the author, I now hate the word "indolent." The adjective is appropriately applied to Bromfield’s writing. Bromfield wrote approximately thirty books. I'm surprised he didn't run out of words at two. His vocabulary was made for non-fiction.

So, I can't recommend this one. It's unremarkable. If I was prone to suspicion, I'd suggest that the 1927 Pulitzer award was reserved for a Columbia University alum. I'm sure that can't be. Interestingly, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was also published in 1926.

Wish I could ask Sinclair Lewis his opinion about the criteria for the award. A future topic!

I recommend reading this book with a tall glass and Maker's Mark. It's fitting that the bottle is dipped in wax.

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