Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Our life goes on in the lives of our children."

"His Family" by Ernest Poole won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918.

This warm family saga takes place in New York prior to WWI.

Roger Gale is a 60 year old man with three daughters. His wife Judith has died and he doesn't see much meaning to his life although he remembers Judith's words. "Our life goes on in the lives of our children."

His eldest daughter, Ethel, is expecting her 5th child, Deborah is twenty-nine and a school principal and Laura, the youngest is his favorite. Her zest for life amazes him. He says. "She even danced in restaurants."

Laura surprises Roger announcing that she's getting married. It saddens him to think that his baby is leaving the house but he also feels that she hasn't given the marriage much thought.

Poole describes New York in this time of its growth, from new high risers to concerts at Carnegie Hall and to Roger's enjoyment of horseback riding in Central Park on his horse.

We consider how the world has changed in 90 years when Laura's suitor, Harold, tells Roger that he can make Laura happy. He boasts, "Twenty two thousand this year, ...we can live on that."

Poole's writing is superb. The story is well told as we follow the progress of the family. It also provides enjoyment seeing the carefree time before the horrors of the war become known. Poole's phrases also are thought provoking. When Roger is discussing Laura's marriage with Deborah he says, "Queer, how a man can neglect his children...when the thing he wants most in life is to see each one happy."

Laura's wedding comes and goes, Ethel and her husband have their child and Roger and Deborah have the house to themselves, each wondering how lonely things will be without Laura's energetic presence.

Roger visits Deborah's school to see more of what she does. He meets Johnny Geer, an 18 year old boy who has a crippling disease. Roger is impressed with Johnny's bravery and ambition and gives him a job and offers him a room in his home. Then, discussing Johnny's health with Deborah's new suitor, Dr Allan Baird, Roger asks if anything can be done for Johnny. No, Allan says. It's too late and there will be a time that people have to guard their children even before they are born. (This seems like one of the early indications of prenatal care.)

Roger continues to support Johnny, Laura returns from Europe, Roger develops an interest in the poorer students in Deborah's night school but without revealing a plot spoiler, something happens.

When WWI begins there is a slowdown of Roger's business and when his children ask for financial support, he has to tell them that he realizes that he is now poor. Deborah has enough money but uses it to support the poorer students.

The last quarter of the novel gets sentimental. Johnny has an idea that helps Roger's business, The crippled boy who grows into a successful businessman adds a Dickensian aspect to the novel

Fine ending that leaves the reader fulfilled.

Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Ang said...

Ernest Poole received the first Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1918 for HIS FAMILY. In 1948 the name of the prize was changed to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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