As George Webber looks out the window of his New York apartment on a spring day in 1929, he is filled with happiness. The bitter despair of the previous year has been lost somewhere in the riotous time he has spent in Europe, and now it is good to be back in New York with the feeling that he knows where he is going. His book has been accepted by a great publishing firm, and Foxhall Edwards, the best editor of the house, has been assigned to help him with the corrections and revisions. George has also resumed his old love affair with Esther Jack, who, married and the mother of a grown daughter, nevertheless returns his love with tenderness and passion. This love, however, is a flaw in George’s otherwise great content, for he and Esther seem to be pulling in different directions. She is a famous stage designer who mingles with a sophisticated artistic set, whereas George thinks that he can find himself completely only if he lives among and understands the little people of the world.
Before George’s book is published, he tries for the first time to go home again. Home is Libya Hill, a small city in the mountains of Old Catawba. When the aunt who reared George dies, he goes back to Libya Hill for her funeral. There he learns that he can never really go home again, for home is no longer the quiet town of his boyhood; rather, it is a growing city of money-crazy speculators who are concerned only with making huge fortunes out of real estate.
George finds some satisfaction in the small excitement he creates in Libya Hill because he has written a book that is soon to be published. Even that pleasure is not to last long, however, for when he returns to New York and his book—which is about Libya Hill and the people he knew there—is published, almost all the citizens of Libya Hill write him letters filled with threats and curses. George’s only motive had been to tell the truth as he sees it, but his old friends and relatives in Libya Hill seem to think that he spied on them throughout his boyhood in order to gossip about them in later years. Even the small fame he receives in New York, where his book is favorably reviewed by the critics, cannot make up for the abusive letters from Libya Hill.
George feels he can redeem himself only by working feverishly on his new book. He moves to Brooklyn, first breaking off his relationship with Esther. This severance from Esther is difficult, but George cannot live a lie himself and attempts to write the truth. In Brooklyn, he does learn to know and love the little people—the derelicts, the prostitutes, the petty criminals—and he learns that they, like so-called good men and women, are all representative of America. George’s only real friend is Foxhall Edwards, who has become like a father to him. Edwards is a great man, a gifted editor and a genius at understanding and encouraging those who, like George, find it difficult to believe in...
(The entire section is 1192 words.)