Laura Hobson

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Laura Z(ametkin) Hobson 1900–

American novelist.

Hobson's novels center on such controversial social issues as anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and the plight of refugees. Her concern is to uncover prejudice and intolerance. She is best known for Gentleman's Agreement, an exposé of blatant and subtle anti-Semitism.

Although some critics praise the depth of her exploration of a given problem, others feel her polemics and editorial asides detract from character and plot development.

(See also CLC, Vol. 7; and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

Gladys Graham Bates

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It is strange, but desperately appropriate in these bitter days, to open a novel upon no heroine, no hero, and no peculiar personal problem. To find rather upon the beginning pages the sweep of continental movement, peoples—not people—on the march—a march not made voluntarily towards some desired goal but forced on before brutality, disaster, and extinction. ["The Trespassers"] starts clearly with the broader theme. The story, intense, embattled, and sharply individualized, is swept forward on the implacable wave of the present….

[Vera Marriner] is lovely to look at, smart, and finished with gloss of the cover girl but with personality and character to take the curse off that; she is shrewd and firm in business but generous, extravagant, and altruistic outside it. She illogically demands a logical righting of wrongs in a world given over to irrationality.

And Jasper Crown! Here is a character destined for discussion, dissension, and disbelief. No sooner will A contend that a man of such vehemence, contradiction, power, and weakness could never actually exist, than B will retort that he knows Jasper Crown in real life,—he is so-and-so. Two or three men in public life are sure to be taken as the prototypes of this radio tycoon who succeeds in bringing the arc of the world within his influence in a vain effort to forget that whatever else he can do the simple, natural desire for a son, for a continuance of himself in this tangible form cannot be realized.

This portrait of a present-day, up-to-the-very minute, business man, is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. Compare him with Dreiser's Titan, with Lewis's Babbitt. How much of the differences are accounted for by Mrs. Hobson's dexterous psychoanalyzing? How much by the woman's point of view? And how much by the strange commodity which Jasper handles (opinion and propaganda)? The driving power which carries him so precariously far derives from his neurotic urge to compensate for his sterility….

[Mrs. Hobson] has not been able to merge her two themes entirely smoothly. The story of the individuals and the saga of the migrant exiles,—the two do not quite meet in the end. But the experiment is interesting in itself and gratifying in bringing to the novel a breadth and depth so often lacking in entertain-ment fiction. And "The Trespassers" is entertaining. One criticism might be that it is occasionally a little too facile in its event-packed unfolding, its slick dialogue, its smart magazine type of detail. But if readers, like flies, are more addicted to honey than vinegar then Laura Hobson is justified in her use of enticement, for hers is a novel that deserves readers. It has something to say and says it with both sincerity and vigor.

Gladys Graham Bates. "Modern Mixture," in The Saturday Review of Literature (© 1943, copyright renewed © 1970, Saturday Review Magazine Co.; Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 38, September 18, 1943, p. 18.

Florence Haxton Bullock

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[The] dominant theme of "The Trespassers" is not Vera's and Jasper's affair—though that, sometimes piercingly sweet, sometimes painfully, jarringly troubled and tragic, generally carried the melody and provides the...

(This entire section contains 305 words.)

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emotional suspense—but rather the unique and greatest tragedy of our times: the huge migrations of the '30s and '40s [by] … millions of pitiful ones, whose chief crime has been that, for reasons of faith or race or political belief, they have been counted out in the ridiculous eeney-meaney-miney-moe of totalitarian ambitions….

It is a tribute to Miss Hobson's gifts as a novelist that she is able to carry with a high hand into her story, and yet sustain its suspense, the kind of complicated detail and repeated deferment that make the heart sick and—all too often—kill the gentle reader's interest. Part of her success arises from the fact that she very convincingly and fundamentally relates the elements of her story. The great migrations of the unwanted and Vera's own unborn baby, unwanted by the man who deliberately begot him, are in their meanings closely akin. The whole exposition of Crown's attitude introduces fresh, new material and motives into this vivid account of the old, old battle of the sexes.

So good a job is this first novel of Miss Hobson's that I believe it is not out of order to suggest that she has invaded Nancy Hale's and Clare Boothe's field, "the women," and, in one respect at least, beaten both at their own game—chiefly, perhaps, because Miss Hobson imparts more meaning, more significant character-in-the-making, into the people she creates and the story she tells about them. She is, in fact, a writer of large ideas.

Florence Haxton Bullock, "Themes Deftly Intermingled," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), September 19, 1943, p. 6.

Marjorie Farber

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Not all the mistakes of America can be blamed on the State Department. Some are collective immoralities, such as the discrepancy between our pretensions as a land of refuge and our actual, eyedropper admission of refugees. Our quotas have been steadily reduced ever since Hitler came to power, in exact proportion as the need grew….

This, oddly enough, is the main theme of a first novel ["The Trespassers"] which includes a love story, a description of Freud's farewell meeting with the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and the case history of Jasper Crown, high-powered owner of a radio network, whose brutal drive toward success is motivated by fear of his own sexual sterility.

The novel, overburdened with symbolism, rocks between two parallel themes of rejection. "The Trespassers" on the earth, rejected by their own country and unwanted, apparently, by any other, are here represented by a Viennese psychoanalyst and his family, stranded in Switzerland. Their unknown benefactress in America, moving heaven, earth and the State Department to get them out, is involved in a destructive love affair with Jasper Crown. Although he has been passionately interested in disproving a diagnosis of sterility, he rejects her when she becomes pregnant. Under the circumstances this is a treacherous refusal of paternity, but I found the parallel—unborn child rejected by its fatherland—a little far-fetched. This is the kind of symbolism without emotional meaning which always runs the risk of being intellectually absurd. The motivation of Crown's fear of marriage and his drive toward power seems convincing. But as a character he remains pretty much the standard Ruthless Tycoon of fiction.

In fact, this half of the book seems to have been written in an emotional vacuum; all the warmth and directness of feeling are devoted to the refugee problem. This unevenness is reflected in the style….

What emerges from [Mrs. Hobson's] first novel is an honest anger at America's treatment of refugees, conveyed less by fictional means than by the reporting of facts and statistics. It would have been a good novel if this emotion had been conveyed by the story itself. For instance, the climax of the refugee theme is supposed to be the death of the doctor's wife, following a year of homelessness, dwindling hope and the hundred daily humiliations which the word "refugee" entails. Instead, she dies just in time to clear the field for a therapeutic romance between the doctor and the American woman.

"The Trespassers" does succeed in being a shocking book, but not because of its fearless revelations about sexual sterility. Mrs. Hobson has compiled a fairly complete record of another kind of sterility, including a world-wide and almost total failure of the imagination.

Marjorie Farber, "Refugees' Dilemma," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1943 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 19, 1943, p. 5.

WILLIAM Du BOIS

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Schuyler Green (the hero of this Grade-A tract ["Gentleman's Agreement"], which Mrs. Hobson has cleverly camouflaged as a novel) is a crusading writer for Smith's Magazine…. Schuyler, after he has reluctantly taken over the assignment [of writing a series of articles on anti-Semitism], leaps into harness with all his heart and soul…. [Since] he is unknown in New York, he prepares for the present series by taking a flat in walk-up Bohemia, and pretending to be Jewish—the only way to encompass his problem at first hand….

When he turns in the last article (and signs a book contract with an enterprising publisher) he has run the familiar gamut, discovered a great deal about the innate savagery of his fellowman and a great deal about himself as well. It begins with his fiancée, a lip-service liberal who applauds his approach to his material—but who can't quite refrain from checking on that Episcopalian background once again. (p. 5)

There's more in the same vein, and Mrs. Hobson manages it all with brilliance and dispatch: a taut description of a contretemps in a night club; a slick evasion of fundamentals at a Connecticut week-end, which the author identifies far too precisely for comfort; the inevitable howls of the wolf-cubs as they close in on Schuyler's son. In the end, of course, the series is a slam-bang success and the hero's fiancée redeems herself—in a way that seemed particularly unfortunate to this reviewer.

But this dénouement, like the whole book, is something that each reader should sample for himself. "Gentleman's Agreement" is honest—even when its plot is most flagrantly thimble-rigged. Its polemics are far better than its probing of the verities; but it is still required reading for every thoughtful citizen in this parlous century. "It might not be the American century after all," says Mrs. Hobson, in one of those editorial asides that somehow seem to crowd out most of the narrative, "or the Russian century, or the atomic century. Perhaps it would be the century that broadened and implemented the idea of freedom, all the freedoms. Of all men." Current headlines hardly seem to bear her out, but she has every right to hope. (pp. 5, 36)

William Du Bois, "Schuyler Green's Metamorphosis," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1947 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 2, 1947, pp. 5, 36.

Rex Stout

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Most of the reviews and nearly all the talk of this novel ["Gentleman's Agreement"] by Laura Hobson will treat it as a book about anti-Semitism. That is too bad, for first of all it is a good job of story telling. Mrs. Hobson had to choose her characters by types—that is inevitable in a propaganda novel—but, having picked them and named them, she put something much more human than synthetic sawdust inside their skins and pumped in real blood. The theme of the tale is anti-Semitism, there's no question about that, but it would have been a first-rate story about people no matter what the theme….

But while Mrs. Hobson undertook to make up and tell a story, and succeeded, she is probably willing to have her novel judged not only as a story but as a book about anti-Semitism. What about that?

It is overwhelming.

Probably a reviewer should let it go at that and merely add, read the book. Read a good story, get, along with it, a tough, acute and comprehensive portrait of one of the ugliest of the demons that live and work inside of men. But while it would be no service to Mrs. Hobson's book, and futile as demonocide, to list the points she makes and say "me, too," she may at least be saluted and applauded for her recognition of the spots on the demon's anatomy where its ugliness is most intolerable and most cunningly concealed.

Mrs. Hobson, of course, knows all about the mean little Jewhaters, the neurotic crackpots, the Christian Fronters and the diseased ambitions of men in public life who use anti-Semitism as poison bait for votes; she does not minimize their destructive effect on the hope of decent Americans to make their country a decent place to live. But she knows, too, that while those are the demon's most visible and grotesque deformities, a majority of us do recognize them as deformities. Mrs. Hobson goes closer and deeper. She looks behind the demon's ears and down its throat, and tells what she sees. She makes it all part of the story.

Rex Stout, "A Jew for Two Months—What He Learned," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), March 9, 1947, p. 5.

Budd Schulberg

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The military victory against the world's most efficient anti-Semites has been won. And yet millions of Americans who take their democracy seriously are asking themselves whether the war which was won on the Rhine and the Elbe will be lost on the Mississippi and the Hudson.

It is this vital question which Laura Z. Hobson tackles with great clarity and missionary persuasiveness in this slick, readable and valuable novel on anti-Semitism [Gentleman's Agreement]….

This decisive theme—in the knowledge of this reviewer—has never been developed in American fiction before. For rushing in where more gifted novelists have feared or neglected to tread, Mrs. Hobson deserves whatever prizes a push-me-pull-you democracy can bestow on one of its more responsible and aroused citizens….

Kathy Lacey—Mrs. Hobson's somewhat too convenient heroine—while able to suggest [that her fiance, Phil Green, do a series of articles on anti-Semitism] …, begins shedding her convictions when her idealistic chickens come home to roost…. Thus Green makes a profound discovery—that in his search for anti-Semitism he need look no further than his "enlightened" fiancée, whose idea it had been to do the articles in the first place.

This sharply observed irony is developed with a wealth of wise and pointed documentation….

Even a happy ending in the best women's-magazine tradition, and sentences like, "Again her heart hammered once against his ribs," don't blunt the sharp, hard point of this welcome, timely, able tract…. Mrs. Hobson's novel is a Stop-Look-Listen-and-Do-Something warning for every American who may be in danger of slipping, no matter how "innocently," into a Gentleman's Agreement.

Budd Schulberg, "Kid-Glove Cruelty" (reprinted by permission of the author), in The New Republic, Vol. 116, No. 11, March 17, 1947, p. 36.

John Mason Brown

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[Gentleman's Agreement represents a large undertaking] both in its difficulties and ambitions. It may have its scattered interludes written for the sake of amusement. It may tell in unconventional terms a conventional love story about a boy who meets, loses, and gets a girl. Yet it remains so faithful to its theme that it takes few recesses from it. Anti-Semitism is its plot; ideas are its concern; and instances of prejudice supply its action. This is at once its audacity and significance. Yes, and why it must be welcomed as innovational. (p. 53)

I read Mrs. Hobson's book with mixed emotions. It is a healthy book to have in circulation. My sympathy with its theme is complete. My admiration is also genuine for the way in which Mrs. Hobson scores her truest triumph by demonstrating the racial intolerance which haunts the hearts and minds of nice people who think of themselves as liberals. I grant, too, that Mrs. Hobson can tell a story adroitly in popular terms. I, however, must confess that I regret the slick magazine quality in much of her writing….

What really bothers me in Mrs. Hobson's book … [is that] I am conscious of having been presented with no more than a laundry list of indignities to which Jews are submitted in this country. Although happy to have such dirty linen aired, I wish Mrs. Hobson had also shown us the many sources of rightful pride special to the Jews, no less than the humiliations to which they are exposed by Gentiles who fancy themselves democrats. (p. 54)

I distrust Mrs. Hobson's plot device of having her hero a Gentile who pretends to be a Jew for eight weeks in order to understand the sufferings of the Jewish people. A device is at best a stunt for display, a trick to capture the attention, a deliberately false approach to the truth. However serviceable for storytelling Mrs. Hobson may have found such a contrived situation, it seems to me to condemn her novel to do no more than scratch the surface of her subject. The inner anxieties of persecuted races cannot be explored by tourists. They are known only to those who dwell as natives among such slights, apprehensions, and shameful humiliations.

I find myself disturbed by another aspect of Mrs. Hobson's central character. He is supposed to be a brilliant journalist, thoroughly conversant with the world as it is. Yet he must not have got around as much as his editor thought or Mrs. Hobson would have us believe. The surprise of this alert journalist at his discovery of how real and shocking are the meannesses directed against the Jews even by enlightened people in this country is naïve, to say the least. He must have gone through life with cotton in his ears and blinders on his eyes. If his ignorance is comfortable for him, it can claim its values for us…. It may snatch the blinders off countless unseeing eyes in America, and force millions to listen to what cries for the widest public statement.

It is because it dares to call real abuses by their proper names and to skywrite some of the ugly, underground truths of racial intolerance in this country that Gentleman's Agreement … can claim importance. (pp. 54-5)

John Mason Brown, "If You Prick Us," in The Saturday Review of Literature (© 1947, copyright renewed © 1975, Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXX, No. 49, December 6, 1947 (and reprinted in his Seeing More Things, McGraw-Hill, 1948, pp. 49-56).

Charles Lee

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Laura Hobson likes to throw light into dark places. In her celebrated novel, "Gentleman's Agreement," she explored the social disease of anti-Semitism. In ["The Other Father"] she explores the personal disease of excessive and misdirected love.

At the center of a story rich in psychological analysis stands Andrew Dynes, to all outward appearances an exemplary, middle-class family man….

However, the soul of Andrew Dynes is afflicted with the "pale disease of emptying time." He is bored by his wife, and he despises his work. By a freak of circumstance he has fallen in love with a young girl….

[One night he learns] that his daughter Peg is engaged in an illicit love affair with a married man.

Miss Hobson handles the complex counterpoint of this situation with dramatic skill and emotional conviction. Peg's lover is no fickle bee. He has money, stability, determination; however, it is not only these ironic differences between lover and father that agitate Andrew almost to the point of self-destruction. It is their similarity in age, the reverse parallelism of passion between himself and his daughter, and the terrifying command, placed upon him not by coincidence but by the "dark logic of cause and effect," to discover and destroy "the other father" within himself.

There's more than psychoanalytical melodrama here. Miss Hobson may not have all the answers, but she raises the right questions about fatherhood. In a story shot through with melancholy and burdened by analysis, she has achieved a dramatic revelation of the complex meshing of human lives. "The Other Father" deserves the attention of intelligent readers.

Charles Lee, "The Father of a Family," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1950 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 14, 1950, p. 5.

The Christian Science Monitor

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[In "The Other Father," Laura Hobson] has written another study in human relationships. But the implications this time are less social and more exclusively personal….

The mother-son and father-daughter relationships, both of which are examined here, have been explored in literature since the time of the Greeks. Mrs. Hobson adds very little that is fresh or that goes beyond narrow psychological interpretation. What is needed in this type of book is a frame of reference, a basic morality against which the struggles and actions of the characters achieve significance. In "The Other Father" this is entirely missing. Under a veneer of family affection the behavior of the Dyneses appeared to this reader as superficial, selfish, and cheap. But Mrs. Hobson presents most of it as quite admirable. Conceivably, she has her tongue in cheek. In any event, by not making her position clear—by establishing no base in even the most conventional standards of decent, fair behavior—she has sacrificed much of the dramatic potentiality and moral validity of her book.

"The Bookshelf: 'The Other Father'," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1950 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), June 10, 1950, p. 8.

Don M. Mankiewicz

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Though Laura Hobson, who wrote "Gentleman's Agreement," is undoubtedly a celebrity in her own right, there is nothing autobiographical in ["The Celebrity"], her fourth—and perhaps her best—novel. The story centers on the selection of "The Good World," a novel by the brother of her title character, by a book club "bigger than the Literary Guild and the Book-of-the-Month Club," and of what follows the bestowal of such an honor…. [We are] given a detailed and intriguing account of the effect of the work's sudden success on Gregory Johns, who wrote it, on his brother Thornton, on their wives, on the book's publishers and their employees, and on a number of others of varying consanguinity.

Gregory, though momentarily shaken by the brouhaha attendant on the production of a best seller, is the only one to emerge from the experience substantially unchanged. The others are scarred beyond repair by association, however tenuous, with "a runaway best seller."

The story of these changes—and of Gregory's resistance thereto—is told with a meticulous calm, a careful understatement which makes it possible for the book to tread close to caricature without losing touch with reality. Mrs. Hobson has not misplaced the ability—so admirably revealed in "Gentleman's Agreement"—to share with the reader her rage at human idiocy without permitting him to take his eye or his mind from a vitally exciting story.

The special idiocy with which we are here confronted is the creation, in our century, of a new and meritless aristocracy, the celebrities who have become such not by any notable accomplishment, but merely by working hard at being celebrities.

Thornton Johns, brother of the author of "The Good World," becomes a member of this aristocracy….

With the development of mass media of communication, almost anyone can become a celebrity, except a man who tells the sort of jokes in which Thornton delights.

This is, however, an extremely small flaw in a compelling and revealing novel. "The Celebrity" offers satisfying support to those who hold that there is as valid Americana to be found on Madison Avenue as on Main Street.

Don M. Mankiewicz, "Fame Is a Crowded Room," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1951 by The New York Times Company: reprinted by permission), October 26, 1951, p. 4.

Thomas Curley

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["First Papers"] is a long book in the midst of which the neurotic reviewer is apt to mutter, "Still so much to go?" But the reader who does not suffer from anxiety, and can afford to relax, will find that Alexandra Ivarin's reflections as she gazes at her husband are true of "First Papers" as a whole. Full of life and change, chaotic, undisciplined, this book throbs with genial emotions that give it an appeal rather like that of "One Man's Family."…

Stefan Ivarin is the center of this novel, but Mrs. Hobson changes her focus often. Writing from within first one of her characters and then another, she presents so many and such varied incidents that it is hard to see the trees for the forest. The impression one gets is that no single action, or set of actions, is as important as the life process itself. As in "One Man's Family," life goes on.

There is tragedy in Stefan Ivarin's life—but in these many pages what is tragic becomes sentimental, or at most, quixotic. It is as if God himself were not a capitalist—but a purblind doomster, made in the image of Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Curley, "Careworn Crusader," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1964 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 1, 1964, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly

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[In Hobson's Over and Above] theme is writ large, almost obscuring the characterizations designed to bring it to life. She examines the dilemmas and complexities of being Jewish in America, creating a character-spectrum of middle-class, educated Jewish-Americans ranging from those who enjoy their heritage to those who deny it. The focus is on three generations of one family, who, although Jewish by birth, have been assimilated for many years…. To some, Hobson's narrative may read like a propaganda tract for Israel and against international terrorism. To others, however, including those who are engaged in the generational tug-of-war between mother and daughter, it will strike a responsive chord.

"PW Forecasts, Fiction: 'Over and Above'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 2, 1979. issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1979 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 216, No. 1, July 2, 1979, p. 95.

Joan P. Leb

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Three generations of Maxe women interact in this novel [Over and Above] set in New York from the time of the UN resolution on Zionism to the events of Entebbe…. Hobson touches on many provocative topics—the Jewish identity remaining after generations of assimilation; the difference between terrorists and freedom-fighters; the difficulties of parent-child relationships; the concerns of the aged. The story is too slim to carry all this provocation and one never gets close enough to the characters to care about their solutions, but the contemporary scene and the strong women protagonists will appeal to many readers. (pp. 1718-19)

Joan P. Leb, "Fiction: 'Over and Above'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, September 1, 1979: published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1979 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 104, No. 15, September 1, 1979, pp. 1718-19.

Nora Johnson

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That money corrupts is a cliché dear to our hearts, and the [heroine of Laura Hobson's "Untold Millions" opposes] … that corruption in varying ways.

In "Untold Millions," Jossie Stone's lover, Rick Baird, can't resist the trappings of success even though he usually can't afford them….

This is Laura Hobson's ninth novel, and it's a pleasure to be in the hands of a pro. The narrative line is tight and steady, and Miss Hobson always tells us what we want to know just before we become aware that we want to know it. There is a sort of counterpoint of numbers—the $10 raise, the debt that dwindles from $70 to $60—which carries the theme on another level, and reminds us how tied our lives are to such music….

As Rick puts one book aside and begins another, amasses more debts and starts having affairs with other women (which he justifies with a Havelock Ellis-inspired philosophy), Jossie's blindness to Rick's faults becomes steadily more annoying. Finally she sees that she has collaborated in her own exploitation. If her realization comes in a rather obvious way, rather like the moral at the end of an Aesop's fable, it hardly detracts from an otherwise absorbing story. (p. 14)

Nora Johnson, "Money Problems," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 28, 1982, pp. 14, 29.∗

Eleanor P. Denuel

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Veteran author Laura Hobson has [in Untold Millions] another novel with a message: sometimes we must pay a great price for something. The particular thing this time is maturity…. Laura Hobson paints a multi-dimensional word-portrait of one child helping another child, one who learns a great deal from the experience, and one who is left behind. She leaps with ease from Jossie's thoughts to those of Rick, either by allowing us to peek into their innermost selves, or through Jossie's journal, in which we see her gradual rise to emotional adulthood. Indeed, the truth can make you free, she learns.

The book imparts the flavor of the Twenties, the days of Gershwin and Whiteman, of Lunt and Fontanne, without overdoing it; the book is not a "period piece." There have always been, and there will always be, those who grow, and those who merely grow older.

Eleanor P. Denuel, "Fiction: 'Untold Millions'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1982 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 42, No. 1, April, 1982, p. 7.

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Hobson, Laura Z(ametkin) (Vol. 7)