I don’t need to write term papers anymore, but I do wonder what sort of comparisons someone could concoct between Huff, the beleaguered psychiatrist on the Showtime series, and Ashton, the beleaguered businessman in Too Near the Sun. Though their personalities are quite different, both these guys are upper middle-class Southern Californians facing problems on all sides. We'll never know Huff’s fate – the program was cancelled – but we can find out what happens to Ashton.
Too Near the Sun by Gordon Forbes. Dell (1955), 384 pp.
Stewart Ashton, a Navy flier during World War II and now a manufacturer of concrete blocks, drives home to San Felipe, a small community north of Los Angeles, to face the frenzy of fiesta weekend. He's not looking forward to the celebration -- or anything else. He is long out of love with his wife, but she won’t give him a painless divorce. He is much more fond of his girlfriend, but she wants to get married. He finds his business pointless and his acquaintances tedious. A tragic incident from the war lurks in his memory. As a huge party for the town’s upper-crust looms ahead, he and those associated with him try to face their problems.
This is an unusually ambitious novel, providing both a character study and a panorama of upper middle-class life in the 1950s. At the beginning of the story, Ashton, the main character, seems to be a self-indulgent whiner with a penchant for obnoxious banter. Slowly it becomes clear that he is just barely holding himself together. Readers are invited to sympathize with Ashton, but they are also given many opportunities to identify with other characters’ problems, many of which have been created by Ashton himself. San Felipe is more than a backdrop; it grips the characters and forms their lives. Forbes’ crisp prose keeps the less than cheerful story moving briskly. Readers seeking a serious literary novel will probably enjoy this book.