That Printer of Udell’s (Harold Bell Wright, 1903)

In short, a tramp printer wanders into a western city in search of work, finds it, becomes involved with a church youth group that intends to build a homeless shelter, then builds it. He also falls in love with the daughter of one of the city’s most prominent businessmen (supposedly). Father disowns her for it, but relents (sort-of, maybe) when he learns of his Good Son’s secret proclivities for gamblin’, drinkin’, stealin’, and whorein’.

Now repeat that three times with minor variation at each iteration. This book reads like three separate rough drafts that, rather than being rewritten into a cohesive whole, were simply cut-up and stitched together — never mind how they repeated or contradicted themselves. Plot lines are begun and built upon, only to be suddenly dropped, then dozens or even hundreds of pages later, not so much picked back up again but restarted entirely, with the details just different enough that it doesn’t quite mesh. The tone and characterization varies wildly from chapter to chapter, and towards the end, from paragraph to paragraph. Bits of new backstory are pulled out of thin air seemly as the author (or editor, I suspect) found himself in a corner. The last five chapters are positively frantic in their attempt to find some way — however absurd — to tie up all the loose ends.

Also, Dick… one issue about your plan for curing the city’s homeless problem… you’re proposing to enslave the homeless. Couch it in all the Jesus-speak you like, you are suggesting that your church youth group make slaves of the homeless.

And this Adam Goodrich… he’s the proprietor of a hardware store. It’s a respectable job, don’t get me wrong, but why are all of you acting like he’s the emperor of the universe? It’s not a one-horse town — you’ve got factories and mills and banks that all have owners. They’re the local aristocracy. But you’re not even claiming he’s just a local big man — you seem to think his reach spans from San Francisco to New York to London.

(Edit) Oh, I almost forgot: Whitley… trying to kill someone, then getting yourself killed with your own knife, then capping it off by announcing “you have killed me”… you’re not Laertes, man; don’t do that.

Inscription: “Vera J. Alesen Vera J. Alesen 30 laflin St. No Lebon, Mass” (sic, sic, sic, and sic), on the front endpaper. On the flyleaf, “V J A”. “From J.W.R.” was beneath it, but it’s been erased.


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