Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Nathan L. Rothman

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 653 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Nathan L. Rothman

Critical Review by Nathan L. Rothman

SOURCE: "Love-Letter to Seattle," in The Saturday Review of Literature, New York, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, January 27, 1945, p. 24.

In the following review of Great Son, Rothman praises Ferber's skill as a novelist but laments the fact that she did not fully develop her story in this novel.

Miss Ferber is a swell writer, gifted, fertile, and imaginative. And she is unfair to book reviewers. Here she has written a lively contemporary American romance, with certain inadequacies plain upon the face of it. We are prepared to speak to her in pained and loving accents. But right before us, in nice large type, is a two-page introduction in which she has ticked off these very inadequacies, neatly, clinically, and without omission. Absolutely unfair. We hope this is not the signal for a new trend of self-reviewed novels. Probably few novelists could give so accurate an account of their own work. "This book," she says, "should have been a trilogy …" but the vast dimensions of her subject so baffled her that she decided to "… attack with a slingshot…. Here, in capsule form, is that which should have been a lavish and prodigal feast." This, in essence, is her own analysis of it, and it is very, very true.

Seattle is her subject, the Northwest region of which it is the hub, Rainier looming over it, the lumber and the mines, the whole sprawling history between the gold strike and the two great wars. It is a great story, and Miss Ferber has conceived for it an American family that grew along with it for four generations of time, not a device of unique effectiveness but one that would serve to bind things up. Yet instead of moving along largely and binding it together, she has telescoped it into really capsule form, and for no earthly reason save that she was averse to writing "one of those 1180 page romances … the awesome and bulky type of volume that is so tough on the stomach muscles when read in bed …" (still that introduction). But that is sheer nonsense. There is nothing wrong with 1800 page romances except that the wrong people have been writing them lately. Here exactly was the time and reason for writing a huge, exciting novel—a big theme, and a writer with the yen and the power to do it well. We should certainly like to have seen those three tomes by Edna Ferber, with all of the Northwest written into them. Instead she has squeezed four generations of national and family history, of a people sprawling across a landscape, of mining camps and city growth and money grabbing and love-search, into 280 pages, using all the convenient and ineffectual tricks of flashback to do it.

Of course it reads like a slingshot job, as she knew as soon as she had written it. The wonder of it is that it is readable just the same, and that is merely the wonder of her own talents, which she forgot to lay aside, her verve and enthusiasm and humor, her love of people and America. Some of this fabulous Melendy family are all-too-familiar literary characters: the crochety, dominant old matriarch, Madame Melendy; her heroic, empire-building son Vaughan, with his prim wife Emmy on the one hand, and his faithful love, a Yukon singing girl, Pansy Deleath, on the other (Miss Ferber, those names!); and even the youngest generation, Mike, gay, brave, loose-ends, then comes Pearl Harbor. All this to make it short and easy. But some of them, like Dike, Vaughan's son, and his wife, Lina Port, and a brief view of Emmy's pioneer mother, come sharply alive, when Miss Ferber takes any trouble with them. They add up, mixed in quality inside their stirring landscape, to a heartfelt love-letter to Seattle, written in haste. Next time, Miss Ferber, please write it out in longhand. We'll wait.

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This section contains 653 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Nathan L. Rothman
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