Esther Forbes

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Frances Gaither

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

["Rainbow on the Road"] concerns an itinerant painter who found his craft so little humdrum, so zestful in daily practice, that, although he could and did earn his every casual supper, he was never in the least averse to singing for it, too. He does so in a taproom largesse of tales, true and fabricated, rendered in a manner to enliven anybody but some old tract-reading deacon or surly band of pig drovers. For he was by disposition a kind of traveling harlequin—and is as easy and entertaining company as a novel reader could hope to encounter. (p. 5)

The narrative style [of the book] is artless, intensely objective, focusing one's attention as immediately as those small household wonders that used to be handed to children to play with: a prism fallen from a chandelier, perhaps, with a whole spectrum in its insides, or a domed glass paper-weight, wherein the lightest touch could set a "real" snow-storm flying about a needle-sharp church spire and red village roofs.

Actually, the story gets off to a slow start. But the grownup reader, like the boy observer, cherishes the smallest item in the winter's preparations…. (pp. 5, 18)

The country [the boy and the painter] traveled through resounded with the exploits, real and imputed, of a footloose bandit then operating along the Connecticut River….

Now, as any reader acquainted with this author's earlier work knows, Miss Forbes needs no more than a slight weakness in a protagonist and a strand or so of innuendo afloat in an atmosphere of provincial alarm to stitch together a plot as dainty—and as treacherous—as a spider web. She knows the occult implications of the simplest fact. For she, like this Jude and the shifting, irresponsible crowds his personality drew about him at every stop, stems, too, from a folk who, ordinarily acting, and even thinking of themselves, as plain God-fearing people could believe in witches and warlocks enough to hang them.

Although Phineas Sharp, by virtue of his calling and his mischievous imagination, is as necessary to the dramatic action of this novel as the blind man who brought the black spot to that of "Treasure Island," he often seems—to one reader at least—out of character in his self-assumed role of wayside philosopher. One's attention, accommodated so comfortably to Eddy's double-lensed boy-and-man view-point, is annoyingly distracted by Mr. Sharp's between-act warblings of such a song as "How Far Is Far Away?"—with sententious asides thrown in for good measure. And when he dares to take "Illusion" as his text for preachment, poking his platitudes right through the gossamer veil itself, he seems as much out of place as people who talk aloud at a concert.

Every other participant in this light fantasy, however, acts as if "from nature"…. (p. 18)

Frances Gaither, "The Itinerant Painter," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1954 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 31, 1954, pp. 5, 18.

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