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Books in Review

Comrade Granville’s ‘Hicks’

(June 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 5, June 1942, p. 159.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Only One Storm
by Granville Hicks
The MacMillan Co., New York. $2.75

Lem Parsons leaned back heavily against the wall of Ed’s bargain grocery and aimed an over-chewed cud of Prince Albert at the wood stove.

“Say, any of you fellas heard who drove into town last night?”

Ben Ward, busy sorting out the morning mail, vaguely shook his head. The other men sitting and standing around the stove didn’t bother to answer. They kept their eyes on Ben to see if any mail was coming for them. Jim Oaks got his Sears catalogue.

Lem’s cud fell short, but Ed Tabor scraped it under the stove with his foot. Lem’s suspenders were on too tight and he scratched himself vigorously. He was waiting to be asked who came to town, but nobody spoke up. They were all watching Ben with the mail.

“By cripes,” said Lem, “ain’t none o’ you fellas care about what’s goin’ on in your own town?”

Still there was no response, so Lem thought he might as well let on to what he knew.

“Oh, heck, I’ll tell you anyway. Granville’s come back home.”

Canby Marsh, who’d been adding a few blocks of cut-up wood onto the stove, turned half around to look at Lem.

“You mean that son of old man Hicks that had the farm out over Sap Suckertown way?”

“That’s him, all right. Went off to college long time ago, I reckon. Some summer folks said he’d got to be one of them an-archist writers.”

Old Jesse Turk, sitting with his back up against the stove, almost stirred in his seat when he spoke to Canby. He’d known old man Hicks long ago and was suspicious.

“What’s he want up here?”

“Gosh a’mighty, I dunno.”

Old Jesse got more fidgety and suspicious than before. When he turned to Lem he twisted his chair around with him.

“Consarned city slicker! Bet he wants to run against me next election for town moderator.”

Lem was busy stocking up for another try at that hot wood stove. He liked to hear the sizzle when his chaw hit the hot iron. He let one go before answering old Jesse Turk.

“Gosh, you reckon so?”

* * *

This book is a novel. It was written by the ex-literary editor of The New Masses and an ex-leading Communist Party intellectual. But don’t let that frighten you. Nobody is excommunicated, nobody is damned, nobody is sent to political Hades.

It’s about a town in New England which, according to Mr. Hicks, is “... decadent, narrow, suspicious, uncharitable, immoral and stupid” (page 137). But don’t let that frighten you either, because, according to Mr. Hicks, it’s also “... humorous, shrewd, honest, generous” (page 137).

In case you don’t think there is much excitement going on in this novel, don’t blame Mr. Hicks. Because, as the hero answers when his wife complains about all the cemeteries in the town, “Well, it was hard to get around in the old days, and then Pendleton’s (that’s the town, folks) been growing smaller for a long time. The dead are bound to take up a lot of space in a town like this.” (You said it, Granville.)

Is this a good novel? Simple candor compels me to say that it stinks. Frankly, I haven’t been so bored since the last time I heard Lord Halifax extolling the virtues of the British Empire.

Its characters are all colorless and stereotyped; its prose is as drab, monotonous and inhibited as a Daily Worker patriotic editorial; its situations are as unembarassing as a Sunday School picnic (as a matter of fact, you’d probably take the picnic!).

There are two sets of protagonists in the novel, and Hicks “protagonizes” them for all he’s worth. One group, the Stalinists & Co., symbolize “evil.” (Party member Stalinists are really evil; the simps are merely potential victims of evil.) The other group, the New Englanders, represent ... “good.” Of course, Hicks has read too many realistic novels (in his sinful youth) so his farmers are not really pure angels. They indulge (not in the pages of his novel, it goes without saying) in a little country carnal pleasure, adultery, sodomy, etc. Granville delicately (and how he can be delicate!) implies this. But at heart they are the real Americans, the salted earth of our nation.

Well, folks, this goes on for 427 pages.

I put a question for all of you to answer. It’s a tough one. Personally, I couldn’t figure it out.

Would the world (humanity in general) have been better off if Mr. Hicks had remained as Party Pontiff in charge of “executions” for The New Masses?

Or are we better off since he became a novelist?

That one’s pretty ticklish, eh?

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