Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Ernest Gruening

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 1,070 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Ernest Gruening

Critical Review by Ernest Gruening

SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Novel of Alaska's Dreams and Dramas," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, March 30, 1958, p. 1.

Gruening, who served as governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953 and senator from 1958 to 1969, was also a critic and author of several books about Alaska. In the following favorable review, he examines the plot, characters, and themes of Ice Palace.

A painting of Alaska influenced by modern abstractional tendencies would be large, sparkling, brilliant with blues—of sky and sea—gleaming with whites of mammoth glaciers and towering peaks, vivid with the warm greens of virgin forest and tundra, crowned with the gold of the Midnight Sun, shimmering with the yellows and purples of long twilights or of the wavering aurora, and flashed with the crimson and pink that suggest the bustle of vibrant human life.

Such is the arresting picture, though not abstract, that Edna Ferber, great word painter, has splashed on her book-length canvas, Ice Palace. The title will give Alaskans a shudder—since for ninety-one years they have sought to refute the myth that "Seward's Folly" is a scarcely habitable land of snow and ice—until they discover that the Ice Palace of the novel is not Alaska, but a fourteen-story apartment-hotel, housing every modern convenience: a super-market, shops, restaurant, beauty parlor, etc., a city under one roof. Its official name is the Kennedy Building, but its pressed glass walls have given it its accepted nickname.

It is the creation of one of the principal characters, a self-made tycoon, Zebedee Kennedy, known as "Czar Kennedy," whose prototype all Alaskans will recognize. Coming to Alaska in the gold rush days, he cannily forwent the mad prospectors' scramble, engaging instead in the more certainly remunerative supplying of their wants. In time, he erected an economic empire of motion picture theaters, apartment houses, a newspaper, a coal mine, and later, radio stations.

He is not the only fictional character drawn from reality. Alaskans will identify the Seattle fisheries magnate, Dave Husack, forty years previously an immigrant peasant boy, retaining his middle-European accent. They will see resemblances—if not likenesses—to other persons living or recently deceased.

The scene is laid in Baranof, a mythical composite city in central Alaska, which comes closer to resembling Fairbanks than any other Alaskan community—with variations, since Baranof is both buttressed by lofty mountains, and on the sea, which Fairbanks is not. The design, following the formula in Miss Ferber's Texas novel Giant, is an Alaskan urban common denominator.

"Every third woman you passed on Gold Street in Baranof was young, pretty, and pregnant. The men, too, were young, virile, and pregnant with purpose. Each, making his or her way along the bustling business street, seemed actually to bounce with youth and vitality."

Thus the people of today's Alaska. But also of yesterday's:

"Only an occasional sourdough relic dating back to the gold-rush days of fifty years ago, wattled and wary as a turkey cock, weaving his precarious way in and out of the frisky motor traffic, gave the humming town a piquant touch of anachronism."

The heroine of the story is lovely, teenage Christine Storm. Both parents died in her infancy under dramatic circumstances, peculiarly Alaskan. Her mother was the daughter of Czar Kennedy and of a Tacoma lumber heiress, who herself died of grief over the death of her daughter and son-in-law. Christine's father was the son of Thor Storm, a giant of brain and brawn, who had emigrated from Norway as a youth, came to Alaska on the same boat with Kennedy, and had struck up an association of sorts with him. The orphaned Chris—as she was called by all—had been brought up by the two doting grandfathers, with the assistance of Bridie Ballantyne, once a trained nurse, but now, in her sixties, the attractive, dynamic greeter of Baranof. The two grandfathers, linked by their love for Chris and for Alaska, differ profoundly in their outlook on life. Beneath the ties which bind them lie deep divergences. They come to light continually in the editorial conflict between Czar Kennedy's "Daily Lode" and Thor Storm's weekly "Northern Light," both published in Baranof.

It is Czar Kennedy's ambition to marry his granddaughter to Bayard Husack, playboy son of the fisheries magnate, to combine their two economic empires for the greater control of Alaska, and through their joint influences get young Husack appointed governor of Alaska. To achieve their objective, Kennedy and Husack conspire to bring Bayard to Baranof with a very beautiful siren, Dina Drake, who is acting as one of Dave Husack's secretaries, and is hoping to capture Bay, to whom she is reportedly engaged. The design is to awaken sufficient jealousy in Chris, to kindle her affection for young Bay. The party arrives in Baranof with a retinue which includes, besides the Husacks, a just-retired general, appointed as a front for a Seattle salmon-packing concern, a fisheries lobbyist, Arne Kleet, and an official of the Department of the Interior. The Baranof Chamber of Commerce stages a welcome for these V.I.P. s, as the story opens.

The plot proceeds from there. It is a continuing struggle between the two grandfathers for control of Chris' mind and life. Interwoven, also, is the struggle between the opposing forces that would keep Alaska a territory, represented by Czar Kennedy and Dave Husack, and those who perceive its great destiny in the liberation by statehood, a cause fervently espoused by Thor and Chris Storm and Bridie Ballantyne, outspoken rebels against the economic and political forces that have, for decades, exploited Alaska, and have kept it in Colonial servitude. The action moves to Oogruk, another mythical town resembling Kotzebue, and to a "scene" in the United States Senate, when the Alaska Statehood Bill is up.

After many exciting incidents, which will make first-class motion-picture material, the story draws to a close with the death of Chris' two grandfathers.

There has been considerable book-length fiction about Alaska—Jack London's, Rex Beach's, Edison Marshall's. Their novels have dealt with different episodes and aspects of Alaska's variegated life. Edna Ferber, in almost documentary fashion, deals with Alaska as a whole; its character, its drama, its potentials, its basic problem, and its people, whom she obviously likes and admires, and with whose aspirations she clearly sympathizes. Ice Palace vividly and understandingly gives us glimpses of Alaska as it was, pictures it as it is—in transition—and suggests inspiringly what it may become. Thus we have the first all-Alaskan novel, of a scope befitting "the Great Land."

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This section contains 1,070 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Ernest Gruening
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