Last week I saw “Something New,” a sweet and savvy story of interracial romance. There was a time when serious fiction could take up relationships bewteen men and women without a defensive shield of irony or satire. Fortunately, novels from that bygone era still remain.
The Uncertain Journey by Oscar Lewis. Knopf (1945), 253 pp.
In Berkeley at the start of the depression Bruce Priest, an architecture student at Cal, becomes involved with Elaine Barnes, a young woman taking a secretarial course at a local business college. He’s a quiet sort of guy who hopes to settle down and get married. She’s more adventurous (sexually and otherwise) and reluctant to make a commitment. They are attracted to one another, but their differing approaches to the relationship threaten to keep them apart.
This is an unusual love story because it doesn't make clear where the relationship is going. Are the main characters fated for a lifetime of happiness, a tragic parting, or something else? Using a simple prose style and a dispassionate tone, Lewis makes both characters credible and sympathetic. The narrative presents only the man’s point of view, which seems less than clear-headed. The reader is left to wonder what is happening in the woman’s much more complicated mind.