My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a great summer read “Rest and Be Thankful” is!
I have returned to this book over and over again throughout the years, since I first picked it up (eons ago!) in high school.
Helen MacInnes has invented a great plot. She uses the setting of post WW2 America during a time when the threat of Communism was at the forefront of some folk’s minds, and conversely, ignorance of political issues was also widespread. This makes for an interesting twist when the characters from widely diverse perspectives meet and live together for a month in a ranch setting.
Sarah (Sally) Bly and Margaret Peel are veteran travelers who had experienced the hospitality of other countries for several years, and whom were now ready for a ‘rest’ and a new venture. They decide to purchase a ranch for the purpose of giving struggling writers a place to rest and be invigorated for their writing.
“For almost twenty years – and Margaret, in fact, could recall more than twenty – they had lived abroad. They had housekept in Paris, in Rapallo, in Dalmatia; they had collected people, paintings and recipes; they had given amusement with their American money and they had been amused, in turn, by the ideas and customs of foreign lands”.
What happens when a widely diverse group of literary, highbrow (think snobby) and struggling (to be published) writers meet up (for a ‘rest’, mind you), on a ranch for a month’s vacation, all funded by two well-meaning philanthropist middle-aged, (and used to their comforts), women?
Margaret and Sally are ready now to settle down, and to offer their new home (the ranch) as a place for other writers to be refreshed. How their world intersects with that of real cowboys, a small Midwestern town (with it’s challenging shopping venues that contrast with the New York’s glittering retail world), and Wyoming’s countryside and nature itself makes for an entertaining plot.
“Jim Brent found he was enjoying himself, after all. That was something of a surprise, for he had entered the dining room in a definitely bad-tempered mood. By way of apology, he set out to be a good host; he listened sympathetically, and he even talked a good deal more than he usually did with women. He was admitting to himself that he had jumped to several wrong conclusions about them. And so they found him a much easier companion than they had expected.
They couldn’t guess from his face that his opinion of them (and they had never guessed that, either), was undergoing a complete revision. They weren’t as silly as he had thought: perhaps it was only natural for women to be as upset as they had been, last night, by the loss of their Paris hats.”
The author has done a superb job with her characters who must have been based on real persons… (most novelists have to use real life to begin with!), but are so well done that the reader marvels at their idiosyncrasies.
“If you aren’t having lecturers -” he looked at her unbelievingly. “What are you providing for my writers?”
“Wyoming,” Sarah said. She was angry, now. He noticed the expression on her face. He counterattacked.
“You know, Sarah,” he said with a smile, “it isn’t exactly fair to ask writers to be your guests, so that you can have intelligent companions to brighten your evenings. Is it?”
She was silenced. He made it sound so painfully true. He had certainly succeeded in killing her enthusiasm. She wished she had never heard of these writers, never seen Wyoming.
She wondered, suddenly, how someone like Jim Brent would handle this situation. And surprisingly, she regained courage.”
There is romance:
“He pretended to join her laughter, as he would have done a few years ago. He was looking at her coldly, even as he smiled at such amusing nonsense. For she would never have told him this, in front of Sally, if she still had the remotest feeling for him. She would certainly never have made a joke about it. Thank God, he hadn’t proposed ten minutes ago. Thank God! For his proposal would certainly have appealed to Margaret’s peculiar sense of humor. There was nothing so infuriating as proposing to a woman and seeing her try to disguise her laughter.
Ah well, he thought, Margaret is certainly not in the state of mind to finance my magazine, that’s obvious.”
There is snappy dialogue, interesting descriptions of scenery, and, best of all, there is growth in the characters (some of them), as they meet the challenges of life “Out West”.
“Don’t worry so much,” Mrs. Gunn went on in her quiet kindly voice. “The ranch is doing well and your guests are having a fine time. Some of them may not know it until they get back to New York, but they are having a fine time. We’ve been lucky, too. No accidents, so far. Bert tells me that Fennimore’s Dude Ranch has had two broken arms, one broken leg, one smashed jaw, a collar-bone, and three broken toes this summer.”
Mrs. Peel could only say, “And that could happen here, too?”
Sally becomes quite adept on horseback. Mrs. Peel hides a secret within a comfortable, old-maidey type exterior (and the reader discovers how easy it is to judge a person based on their outer person). Carla ‘grows up’.
“”Thank you,” Carla said. She thought, how strange that I now feel so unmoved by his praise. Yesterday, Mrs. Peel had said, “It’s good, Carla. I love it. Don’t let anyone change one comma!” And Carla had hugged her with delight. She looked at Atherton Jones to see if he had noticed her coolness. But he was thinking over some problem of his own.
I know what is wrong with him, Carla thought. He keeps shutting people out. He lets them in when he pleases, and he closes the door when he pleases. I don’t believe he cares about any of us at all, certainly not as human beings. Then why does he bother with us?”
There is a wide variety of personalities and viewpoints in this novel, and the author is not afraid to poke fun at society with all of its comforts and pretensions and contrast it with hard work, American perseverance , and overcoming financial and real-life hardship on a western ranch.