IN THIS ACIDIC, provocative, and–for its time–daring novel, Dawn Powell set out to write the story of "the bachelors of New York in the Satyricon style." The time is the late 1930s, and the young taciturn playwright, Jefferson Abbott, arrives in New York by bus from Silver City, Ohio and looks up his childhood sweetheart, Prudence Bly, who has since become a celebrated nightclub singer. When his play flops, the upright and uptight Abbott is undaunted, eventually returning to Ohio and persuading Prudence to join him there to take up a life of drudgery as mate to this always self-serious artist. Prudence, needless to say, finally escapes back to the city and her circle of friends, the disparate characters who give the book its true texture and, wrote one reviewer at the time, "are involved in such a series of promiscuities, adulteries, double-crossings, neo-perversions and Krafft-Ebbing exercises as would make the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah seem like mere suburbs of li’l old New York."
The Happy Island has had its admirers over the years (Gore Vidal called this one of his favorite Powell novels), and to be found here are surely some of Powell’s most biting one-liners. But the book may not be for every taste, and the succinct notice that appeared in The New Yorker upon first publication might stand as a warning to some readers: "Night-club life of New York. Plenty of heavy drinking, perfumed love affairs, and in general the doings of a pretty worthless and ornery lot of people. Miss Powell serves it up with a dash of wit and for good measure throws in a couple of boys named Bert and Willy, who nearly steal the show from the main characters."
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DAWN POWELL lived from 1896 to 1965 and wrote fifteen novels, numerous plays and short stories, and the posthumously published and much acclaimed The Diaries of Dawn Powell: 1931-1965.
TIM PAGE is the Pulitzer Prize winning music critic for the Washington Post. His biography of Dawn Powell will be published by Holt in the Fall of 1998.
The Happy Island is, of course, Manhattan, which is anything but happy in Powell's many novels set there. This 1938 story follows Jefferson Abbott, a young playwright who, like Powell, leaves Ohio for the wicked city, where he becomes reacquainted with an old flame who is now a celebrated nightclub singer. This new edition includes an introduction by Powell biographer Tim Page. Powell's novels are always worth having.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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