Between Two Worlds (Lanny Budd #2), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1941).
Summary: Traces Lanny Budd’s life through two love affairs and his marriage to a rich heiress, during the 1920’s war weariness, good times, the rise of fascism, and the crash of the stock market.
The second of eleven Lanny Budd novels, this work picks up where the first ends, at the end of the Versailles Peace Conference. Budd, disillusioned by the self-interested carving up of the world and subjection of Germany, returns to his Riviera home to figure out what to make of his life. First order is to protect former German spy and school friend Kurt Meissner, to whom his mother Beauty is married, creating a studio for his composing, and a safe place to hide out. He also wants to lend support to his crippled friend Rick, as he tries to establish his life as a writer.
The novel spans the period from the end of the peace conference through to the crash of the stock market in 1929. As in the previous novel, Lanny seems to find a way to be present at all the big events, from the various international conferences to try to “remake” the world to meeting Mussolini, witnessing a speech of Hitler’s at the time of the Beer Hall Putsch, and meeting the famous dancer Isadora Duncan in her waning years. He barely escapes Italy with his life, defending a socialist when socialism was being brutally suppressed by Mussolini. And he is on Wall Street when the market crashes.
One development in his life is the beginning of his career as an art dealer, enabling him to have an income independent from his gun manufacturing father. That independence helps him rescue his father later on. The other is his love affairs, and eventual marriage to an American heiress. First is his affair with Marie de Bruyne, that ends tragically after a number of happy years together. The second revisited his old affair with Rosemary, now a bored wife, broken off for reasons of expedience. Then along comes Irma Barnes, a wealthy heiress. Despite the seeming indifference of both, and Lanny’s dubious background both as an illegitimate child, and a “pink” with socialist leanings, they fall in love, marry aboard ship, and arrive and are accepted by both American families.
Behind the narrative, which barely could be called a plotline, Sinclair portrays the corruption of both capitalism and fascism, and the attraction in this period of socialism. One wonders whether this reflected something of Sinclair’s own social conscience during this period (he later became increasingly disillusioned with communism). He also captures the desire of many to forget war, to indulge in high life and the social whirl, and forget the unresolved issues of Versailles.
The third novel in this series, Dragon’s Teeth, won a Pulitzer. In many ways, this novel felt like a “bridge” between the first and third. If there is any climax, it is the stock market crash of October 1929, with Lanny on hand just in time and flush with funds to rescue his father. Otherwise, this was an engaging but lengthy exercise in character development and historical narrative (with some social commentary thrown in). Perhaps the lack of focused development paralleled a time of frenzied malaise. He quotes Matthew Arnold in the epigraph to this volume from which the title is drawn:
“Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.”
My hope is that the wandering will end with Dragon’s Teeth. I’ll let you know.
[My review of World’s End]