Getting slowly, almost feebly, under way in Zona Gale new novel, Preface to Life, I thought: "Well, here is another Middle Western novel. . . the dull life of little towns, especially such as are named Pauguette, Illinois . . . the wistful young man who wants to escape and can't . . . the rich young lady who wants to escape and does . . . the people, all foiled, browbeaten by dullness, eating their bread-and-butter in a sickly discontent, and nobody coming to any good end." Zona Gale's book is all of that, and happily it is more, especially in the latter third, which is the only part worth reading and which is as near to being fine art as anything written in America these days. The preceding two parts can only be justified as perhaps a necessary preliminary to the third part.
Here we have the ambitious young man who, somewhere in the early 1900's, decides to flee the parental nest. But Pauguette, Illinois, lays pudgy hands on him and pulls him back. All in a breath, almost, he falls in love with two young women, marries one, and reluctantly settles down to carry on his father's lumber business. His father has meanwhile died of an apoplectic stroke induced partly by the young man's refusal to enter the said lumber business. A tender conscience, propinquity of a marriageable girl, family pressure do their work. The young man settles down to a dull existence-dull and prosperous-while the girl he really loved travels in Europe and sends him an occasional letter which he conceals in a sacred drawer of his desk. There follows, after a period of outward reconcilement, a highly developed case of maladjustment. In 1925 the young man, now the benignant grayheaded father of incomprehensible children, finds a peculiar escape from his maladjustment.