• U.S.

Books: Poetic Justice

3 minute read

The U. S. tycoon was once a hero of romantic fiction. Of late he has figured more often as the villain in more realistic pieces: such works as Matthew Josephson’s The Robber Barons, Oscar Lewis’ The Big Four, Ferdinand Lundberg’s America’s 60 Families. Last week a novel with good prospects of popularity—Agnes Sligh Turnbull’s Remember the End (Macmillan, $2.50)—might well make readers wonder whether even popular romancers have begun to look asquint at success stories.

The second novel of a successful contributor to such publications as American Magazine, Remember the End ranks in literary and sentimental values with average competent popular fiction. In an earlier day it would probably have been a romantic version of the rise of Andrew Carnegie or Henry Clay Frick. But some misgiving about her hero’s ambitions gives Author Turnbull’s story a moral twist which is new to such fiction.

The central figure, a rock-chinned, canny young Scottish giant named Alex MacTay, has the makings of a poet, but instead goes to the U. S. to make a fortune. The year is 1890. On a farm in western Pennsylvania he schemes a partnership in a sidehill coal “bank,” marries the farmer’s pretty daughter, a schoolteacher, stamps out the last of his poetic impulses. At 34 he owns two big coal mines, is worth a million.

In the 1907 depression he gets control of a steel mill, ruins a rich rival who once snubbed him. But he neglects his wife, his only daughter dies, a victim of his money-mania, his son hates him, turns poet, loves the daughter of MacTay’s ruined rival. And when MacTay dies on the eve of the World War, having just completed a vast merger, his wife is quickly comforted by the thought that death is a kindlier rival than coal mines and steel mills.

Born 52, years ago in the soft-coal country which gives the background to her novel, Author Turnbull saw some of the first coal mines opened in that section. Like many another child of Scotch-Irish farmers in the beautiful rolling hills of Westmoreland County, thrilled by the romance of Carnegie and Frick, she saw the coke ovens like a pillar of fire by night, the mine tippets a new wonder by day.

Two years ago, after an absence of 18 years, she returned to the soft-coal country to gather material for a new novel. This time she saw gutted farms, depleted mines, nothing to evoke the dream of Carnegie and Frick except the taste of gritty coal dust.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com