The Case for Marquand

I don’t know how I missed it in the May Atlantic, but Martha Spaulding continues the ongoing fight to reinstate satirist John P. Marquand into the American pantheon. Regular Reluctant readers may know that I am nothing less than crazy about Marquand.

If you can find any of his books in used bookstores, I recommend starting with The Late George Apley or Sincerely, Willis Wayde, which are my two favorites out of the seven or so I’ve read (not counting the Mr. Moto books). Right now, I’m reading So Little Time, which transplants Marquand’s obsession with social stratas to America, circa World War II. Much as David Lodge would later incorporate mythological subtext within the popular novel, Marquand has inserted the narrative framework for War and Peace into this fairly meaty work, which is bristling with pre-Gaddis cocktail party banter, isolationist cluelessness, and, perhaps more than many novels I’ve read, a depiction of how ordinary people in typical upper-class and middle-class atmospheres might have talked about America’s ineluctable involvement with the War in 1940. Fascinating stuff, and timely, given the current helplessness I hear expressed over the Iraq contretemps.