Posts Tagged ‘Rest and Be Thankful’

Rest and Be Thankful by Helen MacInnes ~ 1949. This edition: Little, Brown & Co., 1949. Hardcover. 368 pages.

My rating: 9/10

Every so often I find myself re-reading, with great enjoyment, this pleasant, humorous and thoughtful romantic novel by an author better known for her suspense and spy-versus-spy World War II and Cold War-era thrillers.

After almost twenty years living as expatriates in the literary and artistic circles of Europe, Margaret Peel and Sarah Bly are reacquainting themselves with their native America by taking a cross-country road trip in their 1933 Bugatti (purchased new in Rome in those faraway, idyllic times) with their Hungarian chauffeur Jackson. Living in France at the outbreak of the war, Margaret and Sarah had turned their abundant energy from sponsoring and promoting struggling poets to using their private printing press to create clandestine Free French materials, until their betrayal to the German occupying forces in 1941 forced their precipitous flight to eventual haven in England.

The war is over, Margaret and Sarah are back in the U.S.A. and are feeling rather untethered. They are hoping the road trip will give them time to think and refocus and decide on their next project. Heading for California, straying off the highway via a shortcut gone wrong, the trio find themselves lost in the Wyoming mountains with evening coming on. They encounter a group of cowboys, led by ex-soldier Jim Brent, and end up spending the night at his remote ranch house, “Rest and be Thankful”, nestled among tall cottonwoods on the banks of twisting Crazy Creek.

Immediately smitten by their beautiful surroundings, which they favourably compare to the Dolomites and the Alps, Margaret and Sarah concoct a scheme to set up a literary retreat at the ranch, to nurture and encourage struggling authors.

Margaret was a best-selling author before the war, though her most financially successful work, a “non-literary” romance, was written under a secret pseudonym, and she thinks her capital will be sufficient to support the scheme. Sarah, soon finding herself  renamed”Sally” as the simpler charms of Wyoming country life work their magic, has some funds left from her pre-War travel and cookbook sales. With this new project in hand, Margaret and Sally spread the word amongst the New York literary community, and the writers’ retreat is soon underway with “six authors in search of a character”.

And a disparate and difficult lot they prove themselves to be! Helen MacInnes has written a tongue-in-cheek expose, sometimes straying into parody, of stock New York literary characters of the 1940s, and their varied reactions to the “simple locals” of rural Wyoming. Those locals are handled with a much gentler tone; MacInnes obviously had some experience with and a deep fondness and respect for the ranching community of the area she writes about in this novel; though sometimes stereotyped and parodied she presents them in an overall very admirable light. (The book is dedicated “To Gilbert and Keith, my favorite cowboys”, so I suspect a back story is involved in the setting of this tallish tale.)

I also have a strong feeling that Helen MacInnes had a most enjoyable time writing this book. She has some cutting comments to make about various characters in the “high literary” world, which I suspect were based on people MacInnes personally knew. There is much discussion about the dangers of Communism; the Cold War is looming and MacInnes is keenly and vocally aware of the European and American political situation; themes she elaborates on in her later spy thrillers are very evident here.

But ultimately, for all the trimmings, this is a simple romance – or, more accurately, two or three – a love story lies at the heart of this appealing novel.

Flaws? Oh, yes – many! Very much a period piece, and should be read with this in mind. Stereotypical characters and situations abound, but these are balanced, in most cases, by the author’s open acknowledgment that she is writing something of a satire, and she generally allows her most outrageous characters and comments the grace of an explanation as to why they appear as they do.

Final verdict: an enjoyable vintage novel, of interest to fans of MacInnes’ thrillers and to those seeking an intelligently written comfort read.

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