Penrod and Sam, by Booth Tarkington, ‘93, another collection of “Penrod” stories, is the typical second book of a series. At times it maintains the rather high level of humor set by its predecessor Penrod, but certain of the stories seem to have been turned out solely to fill a contract with the Cosmopolitan magazine.
The same set of characters figure once more. Mr. Tarkington has done what so many authors of juvenile books fail to do: he has admitted the unequaled snobbishness of boyhood and has traced the neighborhood social system which, with Penrod and Sam at the top, makes possible more than half the stories. Herman and Verman, the colored brethren, may be socially eligible, but Maurice Levy, barely a “regular fellow,” is never quite admitted as an equal. Georgie Basset, “the best boy in town,” and Roddie Bitts, the hot-house plant, are clearly outside the pale; although we claim that there is still hope for Roddy, there is a certain disagreeableness about him which is too sure to be despised. It is to be regretted that Carlie Chitten, a future Machiavelli, figures in only one story. He and Penrod are truer types of success than are to be found in the intricacies of a dozen psychological novels.
The first two stories, “The Bonded Prisoner” and “Bingism,” belong distinctly in the filler class, although both have Tarkington touches. The third story, “The In-or-in,” the history of an ill-fated secret society, is really funny, and so is the next one, “The Story of Whitney”, the horse that was rescued in spite of himself. “Conscience” and “Gypsey” are not so good, but the following tale, “Wednesday Madness”, is up-roarously funny. It is as good as the best parts of Seventeen. Penrod tries to pass off a rather sentimental letter of his sisters as his own composition, in answer to a demand made at school for a model letter to a friend. This leads to a wild Wednesday of fights, flights, and fatalities, the last of which is the spanking which awaits him as he trudges home at seven-thirty,
“Penrod’s Busy Day” and “On Account of the Weather” are both amusing; the “Horn of Fame” is rather poor. The book ends with “The Party”, easily the best story. From the sleek advent of Carlie Chitten to Marjorie’s confession, that she loves Penrod because of his capabilities for wit, it is extremely well done, and brings back a dozen like experiences to the reader’s memory. Where Mr. Tarkington gets his knowledge of child psychology, I am unable to understand. It has become a tradition to mention Tom Brown as an ideal boy’s story, but as a matter of fact, the heroes of Owen Johnston, Compton McKenzie, and Booth Tarkington are far more interesting and far truer to facts.
(Penrod and Sam, by Booth Tarkington. Doubleday Page O Co., New York. $1.35 net.)
—F. S. F.
Published in The Nassau Literary Magazine (January 1917).