Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fortnightly Book, February 10

Yes, this is up late.

The 1950s saw a spate of 'gray flannel' novels, named after what was perhaps the most successful example, Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones. These novels explored the harsh world of post-WWII business, with its sense of open horizons combined with bizarre and stunting impositions of conformity. It's probably the only period of time they could seriously have been written, at least for a while; if anybody tried to write about the period today, they would hardly be able to cut through the grease of nostalgia and distorted TV renderings to the way things actually were. It was the age of Organization Man, apparently capable of absolutely anything except human accountability, the age of Mass Society and Mass-Produced Humanity, the age of the paradoxes of cheap luxury and progress into self-destruction. There were a lot of worries in the 50s.

The next fortnightly book is one of these novels, The Big Company Look by J. Harvey Howells, published in 1958. I actually intended to do this one way back in October, but other books kept jumping ahead in the line. It has been very difficult to find information on either the book or its author. J. Harvey Howells seems to have worked in advertising in New Orleans, but was better known for his radio and TV scripts. He wrote several episodes for Robert Montgomery Presents, and seems to have received a Writers' Guild Award for one of them. He wrote this book. His name shows up here and there in some newspapers because of it. And then he seems to have dropped off the face of the planet. I can't find anything at all about him after 1959.

The book likewise gets considerable notice immediately after publishing and then, just as suddenly, nothing. It tells the story of a man in the cutthroat grocery business, pulling in grocery stores and supermarkets as clients for the United States Grocery Company. This man, Jackson Pollett, spends a life making the right business choices, ascending rapidly, stepping over friends, until finally he finds himself a little fish in a pond of Big Company Men whom he can't outmaneuver.

We'll see what it's like.

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