I’m laid up for a while for medical reasons I won’t bore you with, but in short, I haven’t been able to watch many movies. I have read a lot. I read a fair amount in general – next to silent film, books are my next greatest passion – but in the last couple weeks, I’ve burned through more pages than I usually do in months. So, in lieu of film reviews for a bit, I’ve quickly written down some of my first thoughts on the books I’ve recently picked up:
The Exploits of Elaine (Arthur Reeve, 1915)
What a dreadfully dull book. I like a good mystery, but this just isn’t one. In fact, it goes out of its way to defuse anything that might possibly be suspenseful before it even gets the chance. Every time something happens to Elaine, we immediately flash back to explain what happened, who did it, and how it can be un-done, before returning to the timeline for Kennedy to save the day. The only mystery the book allows to be a mystery is the identity of the main villain, the Clutching Hand, but honestly, if you didn’t figure that out in the first chapter, I don’t know what to tell you. The Exploits of Elaine offers no surprises.
The Pearl White serial is good, though. I’m in the minority in that I don’t think it’s as good as The Perils of Pauline (1914), but it’s still a fine series. Incidentally, The Perils of Pauline novel is leaps and bounds better than this one – read it.
The Parisians (Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1873)
Ever since I picked up the short story “The Haunted and the Haunters” on a lark, I’ve loved Lord Lytton. I have nearly all of his work in my library, but I haven’t got around to reading much of it. Most of his novels are just so lengthy, it’s quite an investment to start one. I’ve previously read, in no particular order: Pelham, A Strange Story, Lucretia, Eugene Aram, Zanoni, Paul Clifford, and Night and Morning. I say no particular order, but make an exception for Night and Morning; it deserves its last place in the list. The Parisians was poised to overtake Lucretia as my number two favorite, had it not ended without resolving the plot. I can’t fault milord too much for that – he has the very good excuse of dying while writing it – but it’s terrible for the reader to be left only to guess at what became of Graham, Alain, Rameau, and especially Fox. I have to believe an eleventh hour reprieve spared Fox. I simply can’t stand that he survived the whole siege only to be killed by that wretch De Breze.
The Plutocrat (Booth Tarkington, 1927)
I’ve said before that I rank The Magnificent Ambersons as one of my favorite books, but that isn’t to say I’d place Tarkington among my favorite authors. He had a rather unpleasant right wing, anti-intellectual bent that isn’t always present in his work, but does surface from time to time. In The Plutocrat, I’m sad to say, it’s central to the story. It deals with an effete New Yorker of the artistic type, whose particular brand of art is of the gritty new school, and his disdain for the down-to-earth, congenial, proudly ignorant Midwestern businessman that chance keeps throwing into his path. There’s also a mysterious European Dark Lady stock character that the hero is enamored with who serves only to disabuse him of his lofty, romantic ideals and to drive home that Europe and the world in general is and should be subservient to America – specifically the Real AmericaTM of the Midwestern tycoon. Tarkington writes prettily enough, no matter what the subject, but The Plutocrat is a distasteful read.
If you want a book along the same lines, but without the heavy-handed straw man arguments, check out The Snob by Helen Martin.
Kindred of the Dust (Peter B. Kyne, 1920)
Didn’t I read this already? Yes, I think it was called The Valley of the Giants, also written by Kyne, two years earlier. True, the stories aren’t identical, but both are about star-crossed lovers between redwood forestry magnates in the Pacific Northwest. Really, Kyne, once was enough. The second one wasn’t even an improvement.
The Sin That Was His (Frank L. Packard, 1917)
I’m sure this novel would have resonated more with a Christian – really, the only thing I know about the religion is what any member of Western culture picks up through osmosis – but even so, it was a page turner. I read it in one sitting, in fact. A man accidentally kills a stranger, panics and assumes the identity of the new village priest, and every time he tries to ameliorate the situation, he only manages to dig himself deeper. There’s a great deal about culpability, honor, the nature of sin, and the path to redemption – I told you a Christian would get more out of it — but even on the surface, the story is enthralling.
Broken Waters (Frank L. Packard, 1925)
I mostly know Packard from his Jimmie Dale amateur detective series, which is fun if a little fluffy, but I’ve never delved too deeply into his other work. I’m rather sad about that. As a crime thriller, Broken Waters isn’t the best of the genre, but the characters were interesting, the setting (the South Pacific, a favorite of Packard) lovingly rendered, and most important of all, it maintained a sense of tension and suspense throughout the novel.