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Amory on Publishers

Home Town by Cleveland Amory '39. Harper & Brothers, New York. 310 pp. $3.

By Edward J. Sack

Cleveland Amory has moved his satirical talents from Beacon Bill to the New York publishing business, and the result in a humorous novel that wonderfully lampoons the methods of the book-selling world.

Amory makes his attack in the form of a young reporter from Copper City, Arizona. Mitchell Hickok whose ambition is simply to report accurately on the life of his home town. Hickok is persuaded to put some of his stories together to form the book "Home Town." This young man is then brought in his pure innocence to New York to help sell his book. But when he speaks to women's clubs or on radio shows, he just tells stories about his town or the west--everyone is amazed that there is an author who doesn't like to talk about his own book. The contrast between this author and Bill Devereux, the publicity man assigned to "push" the book, is the main point of the story, although there are side shots taken at other standard figures of the publishing world.

The Problem

Cleveland Amory's biggest problem in this book was to maintain a reader's interest with completely standard characters. After 100 pages, the two main characters are clearly defined types, the innocent young author and the cynical publicity man who doesn't even read the books he publicizes.

In order to maintain reader interest, Amory uses his imagination to make Copper City a fascinating place. It seems the town is built on the side of a mountain. Everyone lives on different levels of one street which winds up the mountain, and all the buildings slip down the mountainside a few feet every year. (The Episcopal Church has just crossed the road in its descent.) The colorful stories Mitch tells about this town and a fabulous group of Western characters are always interesting.

The author's skillful use of small details also adds interest to the latter parts of the book. For example, in Arizona Mitchell Hickok has been praised for spelling names correctly, a traditional tenet of accurate journalism. But when Mitch is interviewed by New York reporters, they spell his name wrong.

There is, however, no way Mr. Amory can keep his overdrawn satire from wearing thin near the end. By the middle of the book, he has proved that Mitch Hickok is simple, pure, and good, and that Bill Devereux is cynical, illiterate, and evil. Since the rest of the book merely repeats this, the humor gets repetitious and loses its sharpness.

But the main point of the book--the superiority of the simple, pure reporter over the New York publishing system--is so well made that Cleveland Amory's "Home Town" remains a skillful and humorous satire.

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