Come and Get It by Edna Ferber (1935) – a review
From the original review in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle by Betty Brainerd, February, 1935: In Come and Get It, Edna Ferber writes a lusty and dramatic saga of life in the Wisconsin north woods.
Before mentioning anything else you have to say about Edna Ferber, it’s that she has been places and she has seen things. And then, having seen things, she proceeds to picture them for others in a manner that is so natural and clear that you, too, begin to see them, and to live them. But not like Edna Ferber sees them.
Miss Ferber is gifted with a peculiarly retentive mind and an adaptive quality that almost passes understanding. The publishers of her newest novel, Come and Get It, have called this latest book of hers the final boxing of the compass–meaning that she has now covered all points of the compass.
Come and Get It begins with the panic of 1907 and spans the hectic years between almost to today, taking in the most dramatic period of American history–the 1907 depression, the years of wild-eyed prosperity that followed, the war, the armistice, prohibition, the boom days, the newer depression and repeal.
Miss Ferber’s charm lies in depicting ordinary people in such a way that you seem to move right into the household and dwell with them, knowing all their trivial faults and foibles, then reactions to the simple things, their weaknesses and their strength.
“Come and get it” is a phrase well known throughout the North and the West. It is the cry from the cook-shack in the woods and on the plains. It means that “dinner is served.”
“Come and get it! Set up or we’ll throw it out!”
And there is an immediate pellmell scramble for the heavily-laden table where, from the time on, it’s every man for himself.
Miss Ferber’s newest novel is a story of a lumber mill and paper-making family. It is a story so well told, so intimate in detail, and so naturally exploited that the reader actually scents the smell of the pines and spruce, and feels the cold blasts of the icy Wisconsin Winters. “Come and get it,” in those riotous days, seemed almost to have been the cry of the forests themselves. “Come and get it” is exactly what the timber barons did. They ravaged the forests and abandoned the denuded land.
Miss Ferber’s Barney Glasgow was such a timber baron of Wisconsin, a shanty boy who fought his way up from the roughest of the lumber camps to the multi-millionaire’s palace. So much of his life was spent in creating his fortune that he almost missed romance entirely.
That the author “sees things” is easily manifested in all her writings. It is conceivable that she must have spent a year or more in the woods gathering material for “Come and Get It.” She knows how the lumberjack thinks and acts. Quoting one of the loggers, who has just explained to another that “That new gazebo come down the pike got his stem cracker,” she writes:
“Skyhookin’! Says he saw to the Ridge the push needs men. Bostrom tells him grab a cant-hook and he mounts the log car. The groundhog sends him up a blue. The fells top-lodin’ yells at home to throw a Saginaw into her. Then he gummed her and what happens the hobo-jack gets his stem cracked. He thinks he’s croaked and yells he wants a sky-pilot. Hauled to the Ridge in a travory.”–You don’t learn the language of the lumberjacks simply by going out to a super with the timber cruiser.
Then she must have spent a considerable length of time in a paper mill to have learned the intricacies of paper-making, where the machines were shooting out rolls of paper side by side, all looking alike to the uninitiated, but “one roll is shipped out to the Christian Science Monitor and the other goes to Ballyhoo.”
However, the story is in no way technical. And that is a part of its naturalness – the paper-making and the lumbering merely fit into the pattern of the progressing tale, slipping into their places like a component part of a delicately constructed bit of frieze. The book treats of the lives of four generations of one family, a dozen or so in all. It picks up their lives almost–sometimes always–from the beginning and carries them on down through the years.
Miss Ferber never has to strain for suspense. She never goes out of her way to create an implausible situation, a coincidental subterfuge to bring about a dramatic denouement. That, too, is a part of her wisdom and her story-writing charm.
She evidently believes that life as it is naturally lived is filled sufficiently with drama and emotion to make a readable story, and, because of this belief, her characters are the kind you know and meet every day–they are members of your neighbor. You read one of her books and it is like standing behind the curtains in your own home looking at the folks next door with a spy-glass, seeing all their characteristics, their emotions, their naturalness.
She carries her principal characters into romance and into tragedy, and dismisses all with a gesture when their time is up. Then she picks up the threads with a deft hand and weaves a pattern for the lives of those who are left to carry on. She takes them from poverty into riches, and drags them back to commonplaceness, after an orgy of spending and luxury.
And out of it all she brings to the final chapters two string worthwhile characters, who are what they are because of the conditions which created their pathway of existence.
Often, too, Miss Ferber rounds out a beautiful phrase, as when she says of the incidents of a man’s past that “all were softened by the chiffon veil of Time.”
And so, taking “Come and Get It” from beginning to end, it is a superbly done, absorbing story. It is more than that–it is an epic–a saga of the Middle West woods done sometimes in pastels, sometimes in rugged, bold strokes, and so artistically blended that you hardly know where the pastels end and the rugged strokes begin.
It is a panorama, if you will, that takes in the frightened years that trembled between two panics, interspersed with bits of flotsam and jetsam called humanity. It flashes before you the glad years that followed the sad ones–the laughter that followed the tears. It begins with the heyday of Theodore Roosevelt, about which there is much said, and ends with another Roosevelt, Franklin D.
It is the kind of book that motion picture producers, in their mad endeavors these days to find something that is truly American, clean and wholesome, will welcome with wide-open arms, and that will give you an idea as to what sort of a story it is–a clean chapter from Americana! It promises to be the book of the year. It deserves the Pulitzer prize!
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