The Boy Grew Older, by Heywood Broun. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York. $2.00.
By no less an authority than that of our leading humorist, Heywood Broun1 has been pronounced the best all-around newspaper man in America. And he is. He can report a football game, a play, a literary dinner, a prizefight, scandal, murder, his own domestic interests, his moods, the konduct of the klan2 and the greatness of Charlie Chaplin with the same skill and the same unfailing personality.
“Now,” says Heywood Broun, “every scribbler in Christendom is writing an immortal novel while I continue my ephemeral output. I shall crystallize some of this so-called personality of mine into a novel and preserve it against the short memory of man.”
The result is called The Boy Grew Older.
Before I talk of this novel I want to list Heywood Broun’s most obvious insufficiencies. His literary taste, when it is not playing safe, is pretty likely to be ill-considered, faintly philistine, and often downright absurd. He seems to have no background whatsoever except a fairly close reading of fashionable contemporary novels by British and American novelists. He seems unacquainted with anything that was written before 1900, possibly excepting the English units required for entering Harvard.
This lack is, in an American novelist, a positive advantage insofar as it puts no limit on the width of his appeal. There is nothing in The Boy Grew Older to puzzle a movie director or a scenario writer. It is a book free from either the mark or the pretense of erudition.
Once upon a time, in the early days of the American literary revival, Mr. Broun mistook the fact that Moon-Calf, by Floyd Dell, was a seriously attempted novel for the fact it was a successful piece of work. “Drop everything and read Moon-Calf,” said Mr. Broun to the public. “Drop everything and read Henry James,”3 said the Dial4 to Mr. Dell. But the public trusts Heywood Broun, and because of his shove, Moon-Calf dragged in the wake of Main Street to a sale of 30,000 copies or more.
So when I began to read The Boy Grew Older I feared that, in the Moon-Calf tradition, it would be thick with dots and bestrewn with quotations from Tennyson, Eddie Guest5 and the early poetic efforts of Mr. Broun. On the contrary it is a competently written, highly interesting and somewhat sketchy story which concerns the soul of a newspaper man named Peter Neale. And the book is about Peter chiefly—about a simple and rather fine man who has somewhat the same devotion to his profession that Mark Twain has to his piloting or Joseph Conrad to the sea.6 What does it matter if Peter Neale’s gorgeously ethical newspaper world is imaginary? By such books and such men as the author of The Boy Grew Older such an idealized concept is made a reality. After Kipling, every private in the British army tried to be like Soldiers Three.1
With a boyish hatred of emotional sloppiness Mr. Broun has utterly failed to visualize for us the affair with Maria. When she leaves Peter I was sorry. But not sorry that she was gone—not with the feeling that something young and beautiful had ceased to be—I was only sorry Peter was wounded.
Peter gets drunk. In the best “cafe fight” I have ever read about, Peter is slugged with a bottle. He meets another woman. Mr. Broun hesitates for a moment whether to be correctly the Harvard man and public “good egg” or whether to make Peter’s second affair human and vital and earthy and alive. Somewhere on a dark staircase the question disappears and never emerges from its obscurity.
The boy grows older. The reality he possessed as a portrait of Heywood III fades out when he grows older than his model. At Harvard he plays in 1915 in a football game that took place in 1921.8 He comes to New York and works for a while under an excellent pen portrait of a famous liberal editor. He has a voice, so his mother takes him away and leaves Peter to his work and to his rather fine concept of honor and to his memories—which, if the incidents had been just a little more emotionally visualized when they occurred, would have made the book more moving at the close.
But Heywood Broun can write. If he will forget himself and let go, his personality will color almost every line he chooses to set down. He is a real talent that even the daily grind of newspaper work cannot dull. His second book is decidedly worth waiting for.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
1. At the time of Fitzgerald’s review Broun (1888-1939) was a columnist for the New York World.
2. The Ku Klux Klan used a written language called klonversation in which k was substituted for c.
3. American fiction writer (1843-1916).
4. Literary magazine.
5. Popular poet Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959).
6. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) had been a Mississippi River pilot in his youth; Joseph Conrad had been a ship’s captain.
7. Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 novel set in India.
8. Fitzgerald apparently is in error. On p. 56 of the novel, the hero is cut from both the varsity and freshman football teams when he first goes to Harvard; but on p. 58, he pitches a baseball game against Yale and wins by score of 2 to 0.
Published in St. Paul Daily News newspaper (21 January 1923, Feature Section).