Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Journey in the Dark (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Poverty. Wealth. Family. Success. War. Prejudice. Eddies. A Deathbed Request.
You have been lucky, Sam, to have so much to lose.
Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1944. I will be completely honest, I had a hard time getting into the novel and continuing to read it. To the novel's credit, it has a number of very positive things going for it. Flavin uses an interesting style to construct the story. While the chapters follow each other chronologically, the narration weaves back and forth in time within each chapter, usually opening with a major event and then filling in the backstory. Flavin also describes interesting historical events, such as the expansion of the telegraph and railroads, labor strikes, burlesque, and two world wars.

Briefly, Journey in the Dark follows the life of Sam Braden, who was born in Wyattville, named after the wealthy Wyatt family. His ineffective father was the sheriff and his mother, the chief breadwinner of the family, was a seamstress. Early on in the story, Sam reminisces about the first time he realized that he was poor. After Sam’s mother passes away, he drops out of school and goes to work in a store, to help support his family. When he decides he wants a better life, he first teaches himself to use the telegraph and becomes a telegraph operator for the emerging railroad. Next, he becomes a paper salesman. Eventually, he becomes a relatively wealthy businessman, always taking care of his family. But, even at the end of the book, he never escapes the shadow of the Wyatt family.

Journey in the Dark is a lovely old novel. It is more of a “sit on a bench and look at the painting in the museum” type of book, rather than a “can’t put it down” book. On an amusing note, the copy I read was from our library system’s storage. Several pages, containing a romantic encounter between Sam and a black neighbor, were neatly cut out. I’m sure those pages were scandalous when the book first came out. I respect Flavin for having dared to take on a number of controversial topics in the novel.

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