Though De Vries is skilled at creating comic caricatures, Don Wanderhope is clearly at the center of the novel. An immigrant’s son from a poor and unpromising Dutch family, his principal motivation is to become successful enough to enjoy some of the benefits of the good life. Yet he is thwarted by a series of personal and family calamities. Wanderhope, as his name suggests, is born to wander (away from his childhood religion, in search of other consolations) and to hope (for some respite from the suffering meted out to himself and those he loves). A secular pilgrim, he chooses the comfortable path of an advertising career, but he is still beset by heartaches in his private life—Louie’s and Rena Baker’s deaths, his wife’s suicide, and finally, Carol’s death from leukemia.
A modern Job, he faces many temptations to his faith, and like Job, he is too honest to accept the easy answers of orthodoxy; but unlike Job, suffering does not deepen but diminishes his faith. For as Wanderhope comments at one point, “there seems to be little support in reality for the popular view that we are mellowed by suffering. Happiness mellows us, not troubles; pleasure, perhaps, even more than happiness.”
Carol Wanderhope, his daughter, is depicted as a graceful, charming, and vibrant girl, with blue eyes and straight blonde hair, an impish grin, and remarkable courage and fortitude. She is no doubt modeled after De Vries’s own daughter Emily, who...
(The entire section is 516 words.)