Middle-class realism was still going strong in California novels set in the 1950s. That will be no surprise to readers of What America Read, which makes the case that realism dominated the country’s fiction until around 1960. California’s Famous Fifty, however, offer little evidence of the continuing trend. Steinbeck’s books from the 1950s are set in the past, Kerouac’s aren’t about typically middle-class characters, and Cress Delahanty is a series of short stories. But such novels were written during the decade. Here are five worth reading, with the final entry, a huge bestseller at the time, perhaps representing realism’s shift from serious to popular fiction:
1. Mardios Beach by Oakley Hall. Adjustment problems quickly become more intense in a small beach community up the coast from San Diego.
2. Wives and Lovers by Margaret Millar. A quieter tale of serious issues faced during a short period in a town very similar Santa Barbara.
3. Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick. Unexpected challenges and opportunities face two operators of small businesses.
4. No Down Payment by John McPartland. Tensions rise among the residents of a Silicon Valley subdivision.
5. The Chapman Report by Irving Wallace. A study of female sexuality in suburban Los Angeles changes the lives of its participants.
The books should be easy to find. Used copies of all the books are available from internet booksellers, and many libraries have copies for loan. In addition, Humpty Dumpty in Oakland is in print; it and The Chapman Report also have Kindle editions.