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The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell
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The Locusts Have No King (original 1948; edition 1995)

by Dawn Powell

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177267,048 (3.85)9
Member:richardderus
Title:The Locusts Have No King
Authors:Dawn Powell
Info:STEERFORTH PRESS (1995), Paperback, 286 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, RL Book Circle
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

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The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell (1948)

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Dawn Powell writes of New York City at its very peak, post-WWII, mid-20th century. Skyscrapers, badass automobiles, Radio City Music Hall, cafeterias. I swear that when you read this book, you'll hear the loud honking of the yellow taxicabs, you'll see the bright flashing neon lights of Broadway, you'll feel the surge of humanity walking with you on an overflowing sidewalk.

Isn't that what a well-written book accomplishes? The feat of placing you in a time and place you were born too late to experience, yet factors into your memory, as though you really were there. When I worked in a bookstore as a teenager, customers would purchase this title about once a week. This was long after she was dead, yet she still had a following. One day, I finally sat down and read this book, and I understood why.

New York, New York. The innocence has faded away, but the Metropolis Myth lives on.

Book Season = Spring ( )
  Gold_Gato | Sep 16, 2013 |
Book Circle Reads 75

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Book Description: No one has satirized New York society quite like Dawn Powell, and in this classic novel she turns her sharp eye and stinging wit on the literary world, and "identifies every sort of publishing type with the patience of a pathologist removing organs for inspection."

Frederick Olliver, an obscure historian and writer, is having an affair with the restively married, beautiful, and hugely successful playwright, Lyle Gaynor. Powell sets a see-saw in motion when Olliver is swept up by the tasteless publishing tycoon, Tyson Bricker, and his new book makes its way onto to the bestseller lists just as Lyle's Broadway career is coming apart.

"For decades Dawn Powell was always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion." -- Gore Vidal

My Review: My mother loved Dawn Powell, I think in part because Powell was tart-tongued and in part because no woman in Powell's books gets away with anything...but none of them seems to have any regrets about it.

We had old editions of her novels around, and when I found them and read them, I was surprised by the fact that my religious nut Fascist mama had time for this New York socialite world. When questioned, Mama said, "I grew up, daaaaaaahhhhhliiiin. You might, too. Your books won't, though."

They haven't. I wonder what makes someone hold onto a past they don't like anymore...gosh, can't think why anyone would do that....

So I read this book in the 1990s when Gore Vidal had started making noise about Powell and how very good she was. Steerforth Press, does it even exist now?, put several of the books out (this was after their big success with Mister Sandman, a seriously creepy book that I quite liked) for our book circle. A lot of people found it pretty dated then, what with adultery being gasp-worthy and playwrights being famous for non-musicals and men writing history books getting major publishing contracts.

I found Lyle and Frederick fresh as Vermont cream: She's bored by her life because she's never found a reason not to be, takes up with a man she doesn't much like because he's *completely* unlike the men she's around all the time, and when he becomes like those men, the usual thing happens. Bikini Atoll blows up. I mean, don't hydrogen bombs blow island paradises to kingdom come when you reject your adulterous lovers?

Powell is one witty broad, with a tongue so sharp Dorothy Parker was jealous and afraid. Her writing is **STILL** not yodeled about and caroled over, and I do not for the life of me understand why. It's caustically funny, it's well-constructed in the plot department, and it revels in its wickedness. It's what David Lodge and Christopher Buckley can only aspire to: Good and humorous.

Try this book, see if you agree. ( )
  richardderus | Mar 13, 2013 |
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