Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: Familiar Faces

Title: Familiar Faces

Author: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Publisher: Farrar & Rinehart

Date: 1941

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 310 pages

Quote: “[T]he letter...was sent to him at the State Department, where Tony was something or other in a division called Protocol; that is, he helped the governors of states to lay wreaths hither and yon.”

Mary Roberts Rinehart was one of the most popular American authors of the early twentieth century. Back then it was fashionable to sneer at “women writers” and insinuate that her success was due to family connections (which undoubtedly helped). The serious literary historian must, however, credit Rinehart with other qualities that are important to a professional author. She wrote everything—mainstream fiction, mysteries, comedies, travel memoirs, reportage. She knew her audience, and wrote with due respect for them. None of her dozens of books won a Pulitzer Prize or was hailed as The Great American Novel. But if you like mysteries, you probably will like hers, even today, and if you like comedy you'll probably still enjoy her protofeminist character “Tish”...I love Tish. Tish was a sort of fictional model for my real “Aunt Dotty,” who grew up during the years when the five volumes of Tish's adventures were bestsellers. Always a perfect oldfashioned lady, but never a dull moment.

I'm still looking for Rinehart's travel memoirs, which have become hard to find. I'm a bit disappointed that Familiar Faces is merely a collection of unconnected mainstream short fiction (and doesn't even have Tish in it).

I personally don't like short fiction. We get the hope that Tony in the State Department has learned something valuable from his grandfather, but we don't get to see what. We get the hope that the husband whose wife feels haunted in his mother's big old house has come to appreciate his wife, but we don't get to see him doing it. And so on. However, for those who do like short fiction, Familiar Faces was a box of delights; one short story after another, some creepy, some funny, some heartwarming, all done well according to the rules of the genre.

By now, of course, the book is a collector's item, and I have a 1941 edition in excellent condition (considering how long it's been in scenic but fungus-rich Scott County, Virginia). Literary historians, Women's History classes, and short story lovers may begin fighting over it now.