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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 229

lies behind his narrative, constantly showing through; for his scene he chose New Orleans, but action shifts, at least by report, to plantation and bayou, forest and swamp. No other American novel represents such a mingling of races: French and Spanish and German and Yankee, Creole and quadroon, Indian aborigines, and negro slaves who speak a strange jargon of French and English but who have the instincts of Africa in their blood. This New Orleans is a city of austere castes and almost incomprehensible customs, never too obviously explained, though hinted at with laughing dexterity. The central plot, which shows the houses of Grandissime and De Grapion at war and then reconciles and unites them by marriage, loses itself, unfortunately, in a maze of episodes. But the episodes glitter under a treatment and a style to the last degree allusive, sparkling, felicitous. By comparison, The Story of a Country Town moves with the cold tread and hard diction of a saga. It has, indeed, various romantic elements: there is a mill in a dark wood; the church bell tolls fitfully in high winds; certain of the characters prowl about ominously midnight after midnight. The author, whose first book this was, apparently did not know how to give it the sense of locality. It is as if the bare, sunburned Kansas plain, on which the action passes, had no real depth, no mystery in itself, no native motif but the smoldering discontent of an inarticulate frontier. If it lacks locality, so does it lack relief, comedy, poetical touches, and above all that flowing optimism which too often weakened the books of the period. The Story of a Country Town is the sternest, the grimmest of American novels—and it was published the same year as Mark



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