Books: The Wouk Mutiny

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Chipless Shoulder. Wouk, a man of paradox, seems like an enigmatic character in search of an author. He is a devout Orthodox Jew who has achieved worldly success in worldly-wise Manhattan while adhering to dietary prohibitions and traditional rituals which many of his fellow Jews find embarrassing. He is an ex-radio gagwriter who severely judges his own work by the standards of the great English novelists. He is a Columbia-educated (class of '34), well-read intellectual with an abiding faith in "the common reader" ("They're good enough to elect our Presidents, aren't they?"). Although he is a highly sensitive member of a religious minority, he is one of the few living U.S. writers who carries no chip on his shoulder and who gives the U.S. straight A's in his fictional report cards.

In The Caine Mutiny, Wouk defied recent literary fashion and loosed some real shockers by declaring his belief in

1) decency—in language as well as deeds, 2) honor, 3) discipline, 4) authority, 5) hallowed institutions like the U.S. Navy. In Marjorie Morningstar, Wouk will set more teeth on edge by advocating chastity before marriage, suggesting that real happiness for a woman is found in a home and children, cheering loud and long for the American middle class and blasting Bohemia and Bohemians. Wouk is a Sinclair Lewis in reverse. His chief significance is that he spearheads a mutiny against the literary stereotypes of rebellion—against three decades of U.S. fiction dominated by skeptical criticism, sexual emancipation, social protest and psychoanalytic sermonizing.

Yet Wouk is no tractmonger. He is first and last a topnotch storyteller, and his readers know it. Marjorie seemed slated to be a runaway bestseller. It was the unanimous choice of the Book-of-the-Month Club judges for September, and the publishers, Doubleday, took the hard-headed gamble of an initial printing of 100,000 copies.

The Caine was a story of action and adventure; Marjorie is a love story, and beyond that, a girl's quest for her own identity. The Caine was a clear-eyed account of life aboard a destroyer-minesweeper in World War II; Marjorie is a clear-eyed and warmhearted account of Jewish family life in the 19303. Marjorie is overlong, sometimes graceless, often plodding, but like The Caine, it has a compelling sense of reality, as if the novelist had planted hidden microphones in the house next door and poked a zoomar lens down the chimney.

Who is Marjorie? Marjorie Morgenstern is an American Everygirl who happens to be Jewish. She is, says her creator, "Betsy Jones, Hazel Klein, Sue Wilson." She is every girl who ever dreamed of seeing her name on a Broadway marquee, who fell in love and set out to land a man.

She is every girl who ever pooh-poohed her parents' stodgy, old-fashioned precepts about life, who ever yearned for Don Juan and settled for Steady John.

From Hunter to Sodom. On the first of the book's 565 pages, Hoover is still President, Marjorie is 17, and the Morgenstern family has just made the great social leap from the Bronx Park East to Manhattan's Central Park West. Marjorie is a blue-eyed, brown-haired beauty who can scarcely see past her next prom date. But eagle-eyed Mama Morgenstern is already shopping in the marriage mart.

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