Number Six on the bestseller list, The Camerons, by Robert Crichton, is a mystifying work. One understands the sincerity of Herman Wouk, Number Seven, as he tries to impose his stern morality on an alien culture, or even that of the dread Marjorie Holmes, Number Ten, exploiting Bible belt religiosity with what I trust is some degree of seriousness (all those chats with God must have made her a fan). But Mr. Crichton has elected to address himself to characters that seem to be infinitely remote from him not to mention his readers. A UK mining town in what I take to be the 1870s (there is a reference to Keir Hardie, the trade unionist). With considerable fluency Mr. Crichton tells the story of a miner’s sixteen-year-old daughter who goes to the Highlands to find herself a golden youth to give her children. She captures a Highland fisherman, locks him up in the mines for twenty years, and has a number of children by him who more or less fulfill her “genealogical” (as Trevanian would say) dream.
Of all these books this one is closest to the movies. The characters all speak with the singing cadences of Culver City’s How Green Was My Valley. Another inspiration is None but the Lonely Heart, in which Ethel Barrymore said to Cary Grant, “Love’s not for the poor, son.” Mr. Cameron plays a number of variations on that theme, among them “Love, in everyday life, is a luxury.”
One reads page after page, recalling movies. As always, the Mirror Scene. The Food Scene (a good recipe for finnan haddie). There is the Fever Breaks Scene (during this episode I knew that there would have to be a tracheotomy and sure enough the doctor said that it was sometimes necessary but that in this case…). The Confrontation between Mr. Big and the Hero. Cameron has been injured while at work; the mine owner will give him no compensation. Cameron sues; the miners strike. He wins but not before the Confrontation with the Mob Scene when the miners turn on him for being the cause of their hunger. There is even the Illiterate Learning about Literature Scene, inspired by The Corn Is Green in which Bette Davis taught the young Welsh miner John Dall to read Quality Lit so that he could grow up to be Emlyn Williams. Well, Cameron goes to the library and asks for Macbeth and reads it to the amazement of the bitter drunken librarian (Thomas Mitchell).
There is the Nubile Scene (“For a small girl she had large breasts and the shirt was tight and made her breasts stand out, and she kept the jacket near at hand because she didn’t want to embarrass her father if he came into the room. She had only recently become that way and both she and her father weren’t quite sure how to act about it”). Young Love Scene (the son’s girl friend is named Allison from …