Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour

Life was quiet, but far from humdrum. On the still, mirrored surface of a pool even the dip of an insect’s wings will cause commotion. So it was in Eden Village. On the placid surface of existence there the faintest zephyr became a gale that raised waves of excitement; the tiniest happening was an event. It is all a matter of proportion.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings over vintage novels. Though clean and quaint, they are often overly sentimental. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m glad to say that Lilac Girl is one of them. At first I wasn't so sure. In the very first chapter an awkward phrase made the English major in me bristle up. Then there is a ridiculous instance of a man declaring his passion for a woman he has just met. But in subsequent chapters he sees his foolishness. My initial prejudice against the story was soon overcome by its charm.

Wade Herrick and his best friend Ed Craig are partners in a mining enterprise in Colorado. When Ed dies of typhoid, he wills his little house back East to Wade. Wade spends his summer there and learns to love the people of Eden Village, particularly his neighbor Evelyn Walton.

Ralph Henry Barbour (1870-1944) wrote sports novels for boys and occasionally forayed into romantic fiction. Could this be why the book isn’t overly sappy? In any case, I loved it that the protagonists were never coy or excessively insecure. Their conversations were friendly, open and honest – such a breath of fresh air after two recent books I read in which the opposite was true (The Elusive Miss Ellison and Vienna Prelude).

In spite of the ever present question in the mind of anxious readers (“Will he win her?”), an undercurrent of humor makes the book a delightful, light-hearted read. From the hymn-singing maid, to the poetry-quoting old doctor, to a calico cat named Alexander the Great, there are plenty of light moments to balance the heavier ones.


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