Reviews of STATE FAIR during the months following its publication in 1932 were unquestionably favorable. Critics agreed that Phil Stong drew an accurate picture of Midwestern life, especially as it related to that much revered event, the state fair. Stong was praised for his vivid descriptions of characters, young and old, and his ability to produce a novel that was robust and entertaining. Slight mention was made of the fact that there is no great depth or moral to the story beyond the dime store bits of philosophy espoused by the storekeeper. Reviewers at the time seemed to agree that Stong brought a certain degree of “city-slicker’s knowingness and humor” to his sound understanding of farming life in Iowa. The novel is saved from being purely sentimental and superficially structured by Stong’s style, which is full of assurance, ease, and grace.
One cannot help but notice the tight symmetry of STATE FAIR. The novel revolves around a week which includes a five-day trip by car to Des Moines for the great “kermess.” The Frake family is as closely knit as the novel itself. The four family members are constantly referring to what it means to be Frake and how their strength, inner conviction, and endurance help them to achieve all their goals. Mama is painfully committed to her pickles, and father Abel to his fattened, prizewinning boar, Blue Boy. Each character is sketched briefly but carefully early in the novel, to be picked...
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