Recently, I did a Print-to-Screen blog on Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The 1946 novel by Eric Hodgins is a treat. I recommend it to anyone looking for a summer read. You can buy it for very little money and in some cases free shipping at:
Lines from the book that never made it into the movie:
The building contractor, John Retch, presents a bill for this item:
“Extra Screws . . . $3.00.”
Mr. Blandings comments:
“A very modest sum, but wouldn’t it be more customary for you to pay me?”
When I found out there was a second novel about Mr. Blandings, published in 1950, I wanted to read it. Hodgins claimed it was better than Dream House. It is.
A reviewer at the time said:
Eric Hodgins is going to be a lonely and envied figure in the contemporary writing scene because of his ability to create light fiction which is hilariously funny for page after page, and yet at the same time has its peculiar content of serious significance.
Blandings’ Way is about Mr Blandings trying to come to terms with his life: his well-paid job as a New York advertising copywriter, his good-hearted, well-meaning liberal politics in conservative Lansdale during the McCarthy era (school hot lunches are considered Communistic), the great disconnect between city and country life (he concludes that city life is far simpler), his feelings for his wife, and his two daughters growing up and going their own way.
Mr. Blandings dislikes the other liberals in Lansdale, an academic-intellectual crowd he calls the Poet and Peasant Party. He himself is disliked and snubbed by the stuck-in-the-mud conservatives who are eager to believe he is a Communist. He finds that he cannot win, maybe because he can see both sides of any question.
He makes this observation about winning:
Winning implied not only achieving an objective but holding it. Sometimes a man or a cause won some objective by a succession of crazy accidents, but holding what you won was done only by design. When you won something, you said to yourself this is for keeps; this is how things will be, and ought to be.
The Media in 1950
Mr. Blandings’ youngest daughter, Joanie, writes a national-award-winning essay in which she praises Marie Curie for her scientific work. Joanie, the Lansdale school system, and her parents are smeared in the newspapers and radio for having Communistic leanings because:
- From 1906 until her death in 1934, Marie Curie was a Socialist.
- Her husband was French (“La Curie’s Frog husband”).
- Her maiden name was Sklodowska.
The slander flies around, eagerly aided and abetted by the media. They didn’t have the Internet in 1950, but the taste for meanness and fantastic embroidery of the truth will sound familiar. Eric Hodgins was there to observe all of it.
Yet it is a funny book—a sparkling comedy of manners—because Hodgins was too smart and had too good a sense of humor to write any other kind.
He has a fine ear for voices; all his characters have individual ways of speaking and thinking. He writes the kind of easy-going prose that looks simple until you try to write it yourself. He has a splendid eye for detail, for example, the first sentence:
Outside the house it was so cold that the earth rang like slag.
Blandings’ Way is long out of print, but available in the secondary market. It is water from another time: cold, clear, refreshing.