Tuesday, June 10, 2014
High Fences, by Grace S. Richmond
David MacRoss hates cocktail parties; he's a writer and an introvert, and the idea of several hours of inane conversation coupled with dancing and scrambled eggs at the diner turns him positively ill. But his sister-in-law lives for the stuff, and when her husband comes down with a cold the afternoon of an important dinner party, David resigns himself to standing in for William.
Virtue is its own reward, or so they say. David discovers the woman seated next to him is an engaging journalist, pretty little Ross Collins, who also hates dinner parties. The two, in their common misery and common interest, strike a chord with each other, and David determines to further their acquaintance.
She's from the city, and believes firmly in the independent role of women. David's from the country, and holds very strongly to traditional values. But something about the two, as they talk together, attracts them to each other. Their minds mesh--they're able to exchange ideas on a common level, something they can't do with the rest of their acquaintances. And pretty soon, Ross finds herself travelling from New York City to Connecticut to visit David and his sister in their quite country home.
David determines to win her as his wife; but only if she will tame her proud little heart and consent to live with him in the country. Ross determines to live her independent life in the city, writing frothy little society pieces and witty satires. The two seem destined to take different roads, but time and again they find themselves thrown together--through sadness, through illness, through common interests and common friends.
Ross begins to see how lonely the lot is she chose, as well as how strong David is as a writer, and how grand he is as a man. The country takes on a charm of its own--and she begins to peep longingly through the high fences of preference and ideals that separate them from a happy life together.
Set in the roaring 20s, High Fences chronicles the romance of two journalists, David MacRoss and Ross Collins. This book is, I'm afraid, a fly-away piece of literary cotton candy. A kiss or two, the customary sunk ship with lost lover aboard (which didn't seem to fit the rest of the novel's tone) and two people valiantly trying not to fall in love with each other comprise most of the plot. If you don't like romance, this book is not the one for you. The romance is the main focus, and even the subplots seek to forward the goal. Also, the romance plot in itself is not unique; it's about as cliché as you can get.
I prefer not to read books like this very often; after all, straight romance without other plots to balance it doesn't really have much purpose or edification. But some of the independent elements were worthy of note and very fun to relax with. For instance, the chapter titles themselves were gems. Instead of the customary three to four word teaser, Richmond wrote two or three sentences as a title for the chapter:
Chapter 1: David goes reluctantly whither he would not. His entrance into the story is therefore not voluntary, and he may turn out hard to deal with. But once in, he's here to stay, because he's that sort.
Chapter 5: David would like to take up the argument for the defense, but wisely refrains. When women are on the warpath men are safer in the deep woods.
And so forth. They're bright little lines of satire, and give a chuckle or two at the beginning of each chapter.
I always enjoy reading a book where the characters are writers. Authors and journalists speak their own language, and view things from a writing perspective pretty much everywhere they go. The little notebooks David and Ross always carried with them--Ross asking David to pull out of a dance so she can write down a bit of inspiration before she loses it--the bleak days of writer's block and happiness of words returning--all these things were relatable and enjoyable.
High Fences contains some mild language and profanity. But along with those you'll also find instances of prayer and religion. David is a Christian, Ross is not. Part of the beauty of the plot is David's country life--simple, yet giving him time to think, to reflect, to learn more about God and ministering to others. Ross, on the other hand, lives in the city--always busy, always surface-level, always relying on her own efforts for happiness. As she learns to slow down, she also receives time to think through things she never thought about before.
Grace Richmond's best strength lies in her supporting characters. David's sister Hester, a strong, plain country woman; Madge Winthrop, Ross's friend and society column inspiration; Doctor Sam Reade, who lives for his work and works himself into the ground year by year; and even Tom Thayer and Jimmy French, two of Ross's journalist friends, all shine in their individual right. This isn't a lengthy book, but each character is necessary and clearly and lovingly drawn.
High Fences has probably about as much worth to it as modern romance novels. But if you're looking for something light set in the 20s, with characters who love writing thrown in for good measure, this vintage novel is a harmless, if not mentally stimulating, book to curl up with.