Proofed and corrected from the original edition for enjoyable reading. (Worth every penny spent!)
The scene is California. This story belongs to the genre of the family novel. It sometimes occurs that the family itself becomes the chief character in a novel, the family as a social fact speaking through its various members, no one of whom can be regarded as the hero.
The affronting of such a task as a family novel is not quite what we should have expected from Kathleen Norris, but her achievement is not to be questioned. Her novel takes Reuben Crabtree and his wife, Lulu Potts, from their home in Indiana, by the overland trail to San Francisco, in 1849, and then resolutely follows the threads which are woven by the two sons and two daughters with their nine children and twelve grandchildren.
Norris holds her family together, and carries her characters all at once. When she holds one up for a moment to the light she does not drop the others. The problem of proportion is very skillfully solved. Her accomplishment in this respect is partly due to the fact that she has chosen a family which, lacking initiative to move forward with the rising aristocracy of San Francisco, and separated by early arrival and wealth from the new people, remains unusually isolated.
The author has a number of promising scandals, but they are successfully ignored, as in all well regulated American families. There is a horrifying skeleton in the fact of Reuben Crabtree's second and secret marriage to a to a black woman, but this remains locked in the closet of his daughter's mind. One knows not whether to admire more the restraint of Fanny Crabtree or of Mrs. Norris herself. The innate unity of the family in the fortune and business of Reuben Crabtree. This is the cocoon which the old caterpillar has spun and within which his offspring eat, sleep, move about sluggishly waiting for his death. The business fails and is closed down; the old man dies; the tale of his diminished fortune is told, and certain people of little importance become people of no importance.
The novel challenges patience, as the Crabtrees solicit tolerance, but both on thoroughly human grounds. Even if the Crabtrees lack importance themselves they might have had some conception of the progress about them during the mighty half century in which they flourished, or at least have been used unconsciously as pegs to mark such progress. Mrs. Norris is too faithful an artist for that, too loyal to her point of view.
In detail the book is astonishingly true to period. In its pages we wear the old dresses of percale with leg of mutton sleeves, and nightgowns; we read the old books, Wee Wifie and The Duchess; we sing the old songs, Marguerite and Tit Willow; we hear old slang; we take photographs on plates; we shop at Michel Wand's.
The book is true to life in more than one respect. The family is America; the experience is California; the atmosphere is Kathleen Norris.
'Certain People of Importance', no doubt should be listed among the big novels. There are plenty of reasons for so listing it...
Artistic, and yet astoundingly true to life.
Filled with real people, people whom one recognizes in every village and city in the land.
A true touch and sense of humor will enabled the reader to enjoy situations while sympathizing with those involved.
Action is unimpeded by descriptions, though beauty is not sacrificed.
Without doubt, this novel; touches the soil, the people, and with a strict fidelity to truth of character which makes it entirely a must to read...
'Certain People of Importance' is a great American novel, written with such consummate skill that the skill is concealed and the strokes of the brush are not evident. It is like purely American tapestry. All American weave, it is all American dye, if you please, and thanks to no other nation, friend or foe, for a turn of pattern, a tint, or hint as to composition.