The Golden Cup

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Turn-of-the-century New York City is a robust meeting ground for people and a testing ground for ideas. Hennie DeRivera’s folks are from the genteel Old South and their Jewishness is like the patina on old pewter. Dan Roth is alone, a radical in his ideas and in his life-style.

Their relationship begins when Hennie witnesses Dan’s heroic effort to save a victim of a tenement in flames. Young love, young mistakes lead to marriage and a child. Dan provides sustenance poor in creature comforts but rich in ideas of the new social order. Hennie marches for causes and takes in (as a daughter) the child of a tubercular factory worker. Dan’s political outspokenness causes a rift in Hennie’s family just as his roving eye finally causes a dreadful breach in their marriage.

Separated by their politics and also by her parents’ wealth and status, Dan and Hennie draw away from the family. Somehow, they cling to their ideals and shabbiness even when Dan’s amateur inventions show real commercial promise. Dan merely scoffs when he hears that the military’s interest could make him a wealthy man.

World War I erupts just as the next generation reaches early maturity. Blind to parental wisdom and cautions, the children trace much the same steps through passion and pain. Somehow, they manage to make their ways in the world even though the war brings brutal changes.

Hennie’s son Freddy, portrayed as a bookish sort, enlists despite his parents’ objections. He comes home a legless cripple whose self-hate is loosed, with tragic results. Even Dan’s willingness finally to take the hated profits from his inventions and set Freddy up for life provides no salvation for the troubled youth.

Belva Plain returns to the golden vein she first mined with EVERGREEN; here, she reaches back a generation weaving a complex family saga: Hennie of THE GOLDEN CUP is the aunt of one of the protagonists of EVERGREEN. A woman of her time, Hennie nevertheless symbolizes the rare moments when “amity and hope and love are fulfilled.” In a heavily overpopulated genre, THE GOLDEN CUP achieves a gentle distinction in its power to evoke a past when things were, perhaps, just like the good old days.