Point of No Return: A Novel

Point of No Return: A Novel

by John P. Marquand


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A #1 New York Times bestseller by a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist: A successful Manhattan banker is haunted by his humble New England roots.

Raised in the small town of Clyde, Massachusetts, Charles Gray has worked long and hard to become a vice president at the privately owned Stuyvesant Bank in Manhattan. But at the most crucial moment of his career, when his focus should be on reading his boss’s intentions and competing with his chief rival for promotion, Charles finds himself hopelessly distracted by the past.

Years ago, the Gray family was featured in a sociological study of their hometown. Charles, his sister, and their parents were classified as members of the “lower-upper class,” the unspoken strains of their tenuous social status cast in stark black and white. A chance encounter with the author of the study fills Charles’s head with memories—and when a business matter compels him to return to Clyde, it seems as if fate is intent on turning back the clock. As he reflects on the defining moments of his youth, Charles contends with one of the central mysteries of existence: how our lives can feel both predetermined and random at the same time.

Published in 1949, Point of No Return  is a brilliant study of character and place heralded by the  New York Times  as “further proof that its author is one of the most important living American novelists.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504046817
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 498
Sales rank: 661,919
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

John P. Marquand (1893–1960) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, proclaimed “the most successful novelist in the United States” by Life magazine in 1944. A descendant of governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, shipping magnates Daniel Marquand and Samuel Curzon, and famed nineteenth-century writer Margaret Fuller, Marquand always had one foot inside the blue-blooded New England establishment, the focus of his social satire. But he grew up on the outside, sent to live with maiden aunts in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the setting of many of his novels, after his father lost the once-considerable family fortune in the crash of 1907. From this dual perspective, Marquand crafted stories and novels that were applauded for their keen observation of cultural detail and social mores.

By the 1930s, Marquand was a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, where he debuted the character of Mr. Moto, a Japanese secret agent. No Hero, the first in a series of bestselling spy novels featuring Mr. Moto, was published in 1935. Three years later, Marquand won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Late George Apley, a subtle lampoon of Boston’s upper classes. The novels that followed, including H.M. Pulham, Esquire (1941), So Little Time (1943), B.F.’s Daughter (1946), Point of No Return (1949), Melvin Goodwin, USA (1952), Sincerely, Willis Wayde (1955), and Women and Thomas Harrow (1959), cemented his reputation as the preeminent chronicler of contemporary New England society and one of America’s finest writers.

Read an Excerpt

Point of No Return

A Novel

By John P. Marquand


Copyright © 1949 John P. Marquand
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1572-1


Thy Voice Is Heard thro' Rolling Drums


Charles Gray had not thought for a long time, consciously at least, about Clyde, Massachusetts, and he sometimes wondered later what caused him to do so one morning in mid-April, 1947. It was a mental accident that reminded him of certain passages on telepathy in Man the Unknown, the book by Alexis Carrel which everyone had been reading before the war. For a month Charles had read snatches of Man the Unknown each morning on the train, after finishing the headlines and the financial page of the New York Times. In fact he had done this while going through one of those self-improving phases that sometimes still overtook him — although he had begun to doubt, even before the war, that you could materially better your general cultural deficiencies by thirty minutes' reading every day. He would probably have done as well for himself by doing crossword puzzles or pondering on the financial difficulties of the New York, New Haven and Hartford, or by simply staring out of the window at Rye, Harrison and Mamaroneck. Still he had those hopeful moods occasionally. When he looked at the sets of Conrad and Kipling around the fireplace of the knotty pine library and at those newer books that Nancy kept buying and at the older ones of his father's that had come from Clyde, he could still feel that he, too, might become familiar with the world's great classics, provided he could get things sufficiently straightened out at home so that he could have a moment by himself without Nancy's coming in to take up some problem or without Bill's interrupting with his algebra. At least he had not yet lost his old desire to read, though Nancy said he had. He had read Man the Unknown all the way through, sometime around 1935, and now in 1947 he could still remember that it had something in it about telepathy.

In Charles's own experience when something was about to happen to you, particularly anything rather unpleasant, you always had a vague sort of a preview of what was coming. It was like those previews that flashed before you in the darkness of a motion picture theater — "It's one way or the other, Clifton — Take it or leave it — Darling, I can't leave you, but I must — Don't fail to see next week the struggle between love and duty." At any rate, he did not feel the way he should have felt that morning. When Nancy waked him up, he had a slight headache — nothing that would not pass, however, when he had some coffee.

"Are you awake now?" Nancy asked.

"Yes," he answered, "naturally I'm awake. It's a terrible morning, isn't it?"

"If you'd only remember," Nancy said, "not to take anything to drink after dinner. I've learned it long ago and I don't see why you can't."

It always annoyed him when Nancy got on the subject of alcohol, because she invariably made it seem as though alcohol were a problem. She was always saying to people that she and Charles, when they were just quietly at home, enjoyed each other's company so much that they did not need a cocktail — which sounded well enough but was not strictly true, particularly when Nancy got started on the household bills.

"I hate sitting around with a lot of people," he said, "just talking after dinner. I can't take four hours of steady conversation after I've been talking all day."

"Now, darling," Nancy said, "who was it who wanted to go to the Cliffords'?"

"All right," Charles said, "who was it?"

"I told you," Nancy said, "that we didn't have to go to the Cliffords'. They had us in January and we had them and everything was square and now we'll have to have them again."

"Well, we don't have to have them right away," Charles said. "Let's try not to think about it now. She's the one who gets me down. You know, when I see the whole picture I can't help feeling sorry for Bradley Clifford."

"Everybody's always sorry for him," Nancy said. "I wish you'd start feeling sorry for yourself."

"I do," Charles said, "right at this moment."

"And I wish you'd feel sorry for me."

"I do," Charles said. "I do feel sorry for you and for everybody else who lives in this bedroom town and in fact for everyone else in the world. That's the way I feel at the moment."

"Darling," Nancy said, "don't be so broad-minded. You'll make me cry."

"Is Bill awake?" Charles asked.

"Yes," Nancy said. "He doesn't have your troubles."

"He doesn't have to stay up all night," Charles said. "Is he out of the bathroom?"

"Yes, dear," Nancy said. "There's no excuse for you to lie there. You'd better get up or there'll be the usual morning marathon."

"Is Evelyn up?" Charles asked.

"She's up and she's studying her geography," Nancy said. "And besides, she doesn't use your bathroom."

"All right," Charles said. "All right."

"And don't go to sleep again," Nancy said. "I have to go down and cope with the coffee."

"What?" Charles asked.

"You heard me," Nancy said. "You're always better when you have your coffee. Now don't go to sleep again."

"What's happened to Mary?" Charles asked.

"She went to spend the night with her sister in Harlem," Nancy said. "She won't be back until tomorrow afternoon."

"Are you sure she's coming back?" Charles asked.

"Oh, yes, she's coming back," Nancy said. "She's left everything in her room."

"All right," Charles said. "All right. Is it raining?"

"Yes," Nancy said. "It's raining hard, and the windshield wipers on the Buick hardly ever work."

"Well, that makes it swell," Charles said. "It's nice it's come to our attention."

"I thought that might wake you up," Nancy said. "You'd better wear your herringbone suit. It came back from the cleaners yesterday. I've put your ruptured duck on it."

She was, of course, referring to the gold emblem which had been issued to ex-soldiers and sailors by a grateful government, but there was no reason why she had to call it by its GI name, as though she had been in the service, too. Also there was no reason why she should keep inserting it in his buttonhole. The emblem placed him in a youthful category to which he did not belong. He was not sure how well it looked at the bank, either.

"Never mind it," Charles said. "I'm not running for any office." He checked himself because he knew exactly what she would say before she said it.

"Oh, yes, you are," she said, "and don't you keep forgetting it. You're right in there polishing apples."

"All right," he said, "I'm not forgetting." There was no way to forget, since most of his life had been spent polishing some apple or other. If you had to earn your living, life was a series of apples.

"And don't forget," and Nancy shook his shoulder, "to put two hundred into the housekeeping account. It's down to twenty dollars and I'm going to draw on it today."

"What," Charles asked, "again?"

"Yes," Nancy said, "again and again and again. I thought you'd like some cheerful news, darling."

"All right," Charles said. "It's a hell of a morning, isn't it?"

"And don't forget that herringbone," Nancy said, "and don't take that thing out of the buttonhole. No matter how well Roger Blakesley looks, he hasn't got a duck."

"No," Charles said, "that's right. He was too bright to get one."

"And remember we're going to the Burtons' Friday night," Nancy said. "Don't forget to tell Mr. Burton you're looking forward to it when you see him." Nancy was good at putting details into useful order.

When Charles was in the bathroom shaving he disassociated himself from the activities of the moment and though he had always heard people say that you had your best thoughts while shaving, all that he usually thought about at such a time was that he was in a hurry. Now that he looked in the plate-glass mirror in the baked-enamel medicine cabinet — the expensive cabinet that Nancy had induced the architect to install instead of a cheaper fixture — the brushless cream on his face, the battered safety razor he was holding, and in fact the entire bathroom gave him a transient feeling. He had been moving about in the last few years from one set of plumbing appliances to another, in Pullmans, hotels, in ships' heads and in Quonset huts, but he was still paying for this unfamiliar bathroom.

The house had been a thirty-thousand-dollar house before the war, not including extras and there had been a number of extras. It had been more than they could possibly afford, but then the house itself had never looked expensive. Nancy had wanted everything to be right and she had always dreamed about the right sort of bathroom. Those were the days when there was no shortage in materials and when there were all sorts of catalogues. You could have fixtures in colors and you could select from a dozen built-in showers. You could have it done in tile or any way you wanted — and then there were all those waterproof wallpapers. Charles had wanted the one with fishes but Nancy had wanted the one with sailboats and after all he was doing it for Nancy and the children.

He should have felt at home in that bathroom because the architect had drawn and redrawn it, and he and Nancy had quarreled over it twice; but now, although the building of the house and the bathroom and all those struggles with copper pipes and automatic gas heaters were a part of the comparatively recent past, the memories seemed as hazy as those of childhood. The whole house now seemed to belong to him only vaguely. It was the same way with the branches of the oak tree that he saw outside the window.

It was, as he had said, a hell of a morning. The sky was leaden and the air was full of the pervasive, persistent sort of rain of early spring. The water was soaking into the frostless ground and was dripping from the bare twigs of the oak tree, giving them a purplish silver tinge, and the buds on the branches were already swelling. He was thinking of the family bathroom in Clyde, Massachusetts, which everyone had used before his father had added others in 1928. He was thinking of its white walls, its varnished floor and its golden-oak-framed mirror — not a specially designed bathroom but one that had been installed in what must have been a small bedroom once at the end of the second-story hall. For a second this recollection had been so vivid that the tree and the rain had not seemed right. Trees and the rain were different in Clyde, particularly at that season in the year. April rain was colder in Clyde. It generally came with the east wind, so it would beat hard on the windows; and the house, in spite of the hot-air furnace, was always damp and chilly. There were more elms than oaks in Clyde, and in April there was hardly a hint of spring.

His herringbone suit had a slight benzine odor which showed it was just fresh from the cleaners. He had worn it very little though it was four years old and now it was tight in the waist and shoulders, but not too tight. It was not a bad-looking suit at all and in fact it made him look rather like one of those suburban husbands you often saw in advertising illustrations, a whimsically comical man who peeked naïvely out of the corners of his eyes at his jolly and amazed little wife who was making that new kind of beaten biscuits.

There were ten minutes left for breakfast and it was important to keep his mind on the immediate present, yet when he went downstairs that memory of Clyde hung over him in a curiously persistent way, almost like a guilty secret, not to be discussed. Clyde had always bored Nancy and he could not blame her much. Nancy had come from upstate New York and he seldom wanted to hear about her home town either.

"Darling," Nancy used to say, "we never saw each other in either of those places, and thank God we didn't."

She was absolutely right. Thank God they hadn't, or they might have misunderstood each other. He had first seen Nancy in a partner's outer office in a law firm downtown on Pine Street, the firm of Burrell, Jessup and Cockburn. He could remember the exact, uncompromising way that she sat behind her typewriter and the exact amount of attention she had given him, not a bit more than was necessary and that was not very much.

"Mr. Jessup's in conference and he won't be free for half an hour," Nancy had said. Nancy was always able to keep track of time as readily as a railroad conductor. That was the way he and Nancy had met and that was all there had been to their meeting.

"You needed a haircut," Nancy told him later, "but not very badly, and the way you held your brief case showed you weren't one of those bond boys, and you didn't have a handkerchief in your breast pocket."

"Well," he had told her later, "you didn't look so lovable either."

"Darling," Nancy said, "that's one of the nicest things you've ever told me. I spent a long time cultivating just that look."

When he came down to the dining room, Nancy was sitting in much the same posture, very straight in her bleached oak chair. Instead of a typewriter she was manipulating a toaster and an electric percolator, and there was a child on either side of her — their children.

"Don't trip over the extension cords," Nancy said. "Billy —"

His son Bill rose from the table and pulled out his chair for him, a respectful attention on which Nancy insisted and which always made Charles nervous.

"Well, well," Charles said. "Good morning, everybody. Hasn't the school bus come by yet?"

"It's not the school bus," his daughter Evelyn said. "It's the school car. Why do you always call it a bus?"

"It ought to be a bus," Charles said. "You kids ought to be going to a public school."

Nancy was looking at him critically as she always did before he went to town.

"You've forgotten your handkerchief," she said.

That idea of hers that every well-dressed man should have a corner of a handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket he often thought must have been a hangover from Nancy's earlier days, but then perhaps every woman had her own peculiar ideas about male dress.

"Now listen, Nance," he said, "never mind about the handkerchief."

It surprised him that she let it pass.

"Evelyn, pass your father his coffee," she said.

"And don't look cute when you're doing it," Bill said.

"Mother," Evelyn said, "won't you tell Bill to stop that, please?"

"Yes," Nancy said. "Stop, Bill, and go out in the kitchen. Put the eggs in and watch the clock."

There was no necessity for listening carefully to the voices of Nancy and the children. He could go on with his orange juice, toast, and coffee as though the conversation were a background of words issuing from a radio. He had heard the program again and again.

"You've got to leave in five minutes," Nancy said. "The roads will be slippery."

Charles pulled his watch from his vest pocket, the one that Nancy had given him just before they were married, and glanced at it.

"And remember," Nancy said, "you'll have to go and get the Buick out. Something seems to be wrong with the automatic choke."

"Didn't you send it down to be fixed?" Charles asked.

"Yes," Nancy answered, "but you know what they're like at that service station. They just look at the carburetor and don't do anything. I wish you'd go to that new Acme place."

"Acme. I wonder what acme means exactly," Charles said.

"Why, Daddy," Evelyn said. "Don't you know what acme means? It means the top of everything."

It startled him to have Evelyn tell him something which he should have known himself and which, of course, he would have known if he had put his mind on it. The trouble was that he had not been back long enough for broken links of habit to be wholly mended, and everything at home still seemed to have sprung readymade out of nowhere. There was something in Berkeley's theory of philosophy — as he had learned it at Dartmouth — that there was no proof that anything existed except in the radius of one's consciousness.

Before the war, Bill had been nine and Evelyn had been six, and now Evelyn was able to look up acme in the dictionary. He was in a ready-made dining room, though he had been responsible for its having been built in 1940. He and Nancy had bought the bleached chairs and table and sideboard and had agreed that the walls should be done in pickled pine because they had wanted it to look light and modern. The glazed chintz draperies still had their original luster and the begonias and ivy and geraniums in the bow window looked as though they had just come from the florist, because Nancy had made an intensive study of the care and feeding of household plants. There were no finger marks or smudges on the table or the chairs and the light carpet was just back from the cleaners without a smudge on it either. It was amazing how beautifully Nancy could keep a house with only one maid to help her.

"You'd better get the Buick now," Nancy said. "There's no use killing ourselves getting to the train."

The rain gave the blue gravel near the garage a metallic sheen. The water on the lightly whitened brick of the house — he believed it had been called Southern Brick — made the variegated color look like new plastic, and the leaves of the rhododendrons and the firs near the front door glistened like dark cold water.


Excerpted from Point of No Return by John P. Marquand. Copyright © 1949 John P. Marquand. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 Thy Voice Is Heard thro' Rolling Drums,
2 A Moment, While the Trumpets Blow,
3 The Business of America Is Business,
4 I Remember, I Remember, the House Where I Was Born,
5 Everything Fits into Banking Somewhere,
6 We're Both Doing What We Do Very Well,
7 Shadows of the Evening,
8 We're All in the Same Boat — Eventually,
9 A Fitting Place for the Enshrinement of Ancestral Relics,
1 The Clyde of Alice Ruskin Lyte,
2 A Place for Everything,
3 Few Things Are Impossible to Diligence and Skill,
4 Don't Let Anyone Tell You, My Young Friends, That There Is Any Such Thing as Luck ...,
5 The Youth Replies, I Can,
6 The Readers of the Boston Evening Transcript Sway in the Wind Like a Field of Ripe Corn,
7 When We Ran with the Old Machine,
8 Not That I'm Not Very Glad You Found Him,
9 All the World's a Stage,
10 The Procedural Pattern,
11 And You End with a Barrel of Money,
12 In the Spring a Livelier Iris ...,
13 How About It, Charley?,
14 The Gambling Known as Business Looks with Austere Disfavor upon the Business Known as Gambling,
15 Laugh, Clown, Laugh,
16 Shake Off the Shackles of This Tyrant Vice,
17 If You Can Dream — and Not Make Dreams Your Master ...,
18 When I Was One-and-Twenty, I Heard a Wise Man Say,
19 "Give Crowns and Pounds and Guineas, but Not Your Heart Away",
20 No Time for Jubilation,
21 A Formal Announcement Will Be Necessary,
22 That Gale I Well Remember ...,
23 I Think That Frankness Has Been the Basis of Our Previous Relationship,
24 One Big, Happy Family,
1 Please Leave No Articles,
2 Home Free,
3 Second Man in Rome,
4 I Suppose She'll Wear a Long Dress,
5 Fate Gave, What Chance Shall Not Control ...,
About the Author,

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Point of No Return 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not the easiest book to read, but patience is rewarded handsomely. The book concerns Charley, a suburbanite commuter and banker at a white-shoe bank in New York City. Part of the plot is a genial satire that pits Charley against his flashier rival, Roger, for the newly open post of Vice-President. The more significant part of the plot, however, has Charley making a business trip to the town he grew up in and left some years ago. Charley is haunted by visions of his youth, especially the girl he was briefly engaged to and almost married. It was back in the 1920s that Charley got to know the brilliant young sociologist who was then researching on the sly that little town that later furnished the information for his breakthrough best-seller, 'Yankee Persepolis.' Charley has imbibed enough of the determinism of the sociological perspective to wonder if he, in his early 40s, has reached his own 'point of no return'--or, even worse, was his future predetermined at birth? Most of the characters that surround Charley are stick figures (the nagging suburban wife, the children of middling intellect, the roundabout boss), but we follow Charley's changes as he struggles with his crisis. Despite his obvious socioeconomic advantages and his leveraging for more, I found myself rooting for Charley. I really enjoyed this book.
Davids3 More than 1 year ago
Point of No Return is perhaps the best of Marquand's novels. It is an engrossing story of a man's struggle to move ahead and all the fears that come with pursuing a career. The continued need to assess every move and action while having a home life and family, resonated deeply with me. And as always, Marquand paints the scene of the bank, the country club and all the players in the drama, with a master's hand. His writings make me wonder where so many of today's authors have gone astray. This would make a fine movie, with , say Matt Dammon . '