Tuesday, July 26, 2016
If ever a writer needed a Maxwell Perkins it was Howells
Inevitably, the Rise of Silas Lapham becomes the fall of Silas Lapham, as any half-awake reader has known for 200 pages - he makes some risky investments, goes in against his better judgement with his one-time antagonist - at the urging of his wife, to make good the time when he cut his former partner out of the business - and loses a lot of money in the process, is left with a few mills alongside a rr, knows he can probably sell them at a profit but only if he hides what he's discovered about the rr plans to eliminate the line (or something like that), which he refuses to do - and the world of finance is cruel (in those days no one was too big to fail, it seems) and he has to cut back and even stop construction on the mansion he's building on Beacon St., the symbol of his success. So what will this mean - in particular, for the potential link by marriage to the old $ Corey family? The novel teeters between a Balzac-Zola like expose of class and finance in the Industrial Age and a Lifetime romance - wold money guy falls for the ugly duckling sister (rather than the beauty) in the new $ family - can cash make up for lack of cash? I'm predicting at this point that the Lapham fortune gets restored - possibly through the marital alliance? or a sudden rise in the price of mills? - and that Tom Corey's friend from out west suddenly shows up in Boston and falls for the beautiful sister, Irene, and all is well. Or am I selling William Dean Howells short? I know he can be a serious writer - didn't he co-author a novel w/ Twain that was clumsy as literature but a dark and sensational view of American politics? - so maybe he'll surprise me. Much that's good here - and it's not every 19th-century novel(ist) that can keep my attention right through to the end - but if ever a writer needed a Maxwell Perkins it was Howells - at half thelength this would have been twice the book.