Florence Codman (review date 1948)
SOURCE: A review of The Living Is Easy, in The Commonweal, June 25, 1948, pp. 264-65.
[In the following review, Codman favorably reviews The Living Is Easy shortly after its publication.]
Richard Wright's and Ralph Ellison's violent accounts of Negro life in this country are the natural, passionate outgrowths of the lowest levels of race prejudice; The Living Is Easy shows the effects of a different level, the level at which conformity, not rebellion, and the fear of losing hard won status, not the refusal to accept wrongs, create a class which, at its worse, is the enemy of its race, and, at its best, its uncertain fulcrum. Miss West's Negroes of early Twentieth Century Boston have become snobbish and cautious not because of free forebears who were only respected head servants, but because of men, living and dead, who achieved economic independence and respect as small business men. In the easy by-ways of that post-bellum Abolitionist city, they and their families became bourgeois. The ironic theme of the novel is the distintegration wrought by a poor outsider from the Deep South, who aspires to be more middle class than any of them. In Cleo Judson, Miss West has created a woman smitten by the virus of Agrippinas of all races, the predatory female on the loose, a wholly plausible, tentalizing creature. There are some loose places in the framework of the book, but the style has a professional, ready grace, and there is nothing “stock” about the characters. Indeed, in her first novel, Miss West displays all the talents of a highly competent writer.