STORMY WEATHER: Crosslights on the Nineteen Thirties. . . by J. C. Furnas

STORMY WEATHER: Crosslights on the Nineteen Thirties. . .

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Breathes there a Thirties token-collector who can place: MOMA, the Petty Girl, Elmer Davis, ""Ballad for Americans,"" Ham and Eggs, shelterbelts, Black Mountain College, the Borscht Circuit, Henry J. Anslinger, ""This. . . is London!""? These and 1001 other period phenomena are packed into Furnas' grand finale to The Americans (1969) and Great Times (1974), where, oddly assorted, they sometimes strike sparks, sometimes chafe. From the Museum of Modern Art to functionalist architecture to (failed) prefab housing to (ubiquitous) trailers and--via the John D. Rockefeller IIs' aesthetic concordance--Colonial Williamsburg and Greenfield Village, is an ingenious, suggestive progression--stretched to take in nudism as a panacea, the non-conventional Ulysses decision, the ""premonitory"" birth of Esquire, today's wide-open Times Square, and the redemptive airing of VD. Whereupon candid photography joins nudism as an instance of German nature-lust at the expense of human dignity--to continue Furnas' wild spin through ""The Arts."" If there is seldom a dull moment, there are some dubious ones, attributable to one of the book's strengths: Furnas' unconcealed partiality. His enthusiasm for rural development--Resettlement Administration to CCC to Shelterbelt Program to The Plow That Broke the Plains--is eye-opening and mind-stretching; his resuscitated aversion to ""the Reds' gravitational pull"" (also ""the boom in Soviets Preferred,"" the ""Great Redwood Swing"") colors his discussion of every cranny susceptible to Communist penetration--or seepage: ""Such innocence of radical intent, however, did not necessarily mean lack of social effect, even of aid and comfort to radical doings."" And with so much made of ""radical doings"" (and nothing said of solid Republicanism or New-Deal Democracy), the picture of the Thirties' body politic is dangerously skewed. Look to Furnas, then, for the Lifelike and Timely, for tracing legends (such as the air-drop of millionaires) to their source, for distinguishing hindsight from observation--but not for a sense of what the Depression decade meant (surely social history too?) in the lives of those who came through it.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1977
Publisher: Putnam