John P. Marquand has said that he started writing WICKFORD POINT from memories of his childhood and adolescence that centered around a country home once owned by his great-grandmother. He then added to these memories patterns of relationships observable in any family. This family chronicle of the old Brill homestead at Wickford Point, north of Boston, is told by a cousin, Jim Calder. Jim is loyal to this self-satisfied and inefficient family, but he struggles to keep clear of their strangling affection and dependence. The novel’s social implications are true and unpretentious. It is written with a brilliant manipulation of scenes and incidents. Marquand’s literary workmanship and intelligence are unobtrusively evident everywhere. The prose seems informal but is actually artful in the best sense. The satire and irony are never heavy-handed but are blended slyly with wit and a nice touch of sentiment. Although somewhat repetitious, the novel nevertheless maintains the reader’s interest.
The nuances of life in and around Boston are intricately detailed and often are as amusing as scenes from Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope. Nobody ever does anything about anything at Wickford Point. Jim Calder understands the chaotic Brill clan, but he still loves one of its members, the wicked and delightful Bella. This conflict between mind and emotion provides a humorous and touching struggle within the hero-narrator. The narration usually avoids the archness that often distorts satire. This is because Marquand cares about the people he chooses to portray.
WICKFORD POINT does not have the unity of THE LATE GEORGE APLEY (1937), but its portrayal of clan snobbishness is even more pointed than in the earlier novel. The true worth of WICKFORD POINT lies below its satiric surface. It is a novel of importance because its underlying emphasis is upon the motivations of human behavior.
Marquand’s technique here is marked by the use of flashbacks to make the present meaningful and to explain the motives of his characters. His touch is deft, his theme well-handled, his story interesting, and his irony amusing. The impact of the outside world upon the little, complacent society of Wickford Point is admirably demonstrated.