The Big Town
The “big town” is any big town, and the time is 1929, the summer before the crash. Harry Hennesey is a down-on-his-luck salesman who must sell his house in small- town Illinois and move his wife and two children to East Texas to live with his mother while he attempts to rebuild the family’s finances by moving to the Big Town. Hennesey is established as a philanderer in the first few pages, so he’s not the most sympathetic of characters. He is, however, too naïve for the Big Town (it just begs to be capitalized). Pearl, a beautiful, but damaged and dangerous young woman, takes a liking to him, and Hennesey, while trying to stay faithful to his wife, finds himself tempted by the girl and caught up in her tumultuous life. He is equally unprepared to be a cold-hearted businessman in the Big Town, so his grand schemes peter out.
I grasped what Schulz wanted to do with this book. The summer of 1929 was just before the world imploded financially. Prohibition had made men set their own rules, separate from the law. A big city was where anything could happen; a flapper could fall for a salesman, a salesman could be offered $5000 to find a missing girl. I didn’t buy that the flapper would fall for the salesman and the salesman would be offered $5000, and that was the problem. Had the book been shorter and more tightly written, I might have bought it. Had Hennesey been a character with a clearer motivation, rather than noodling around, weak-willed, I might have bought it. A fascinating time; less fascinating characters.