The Outward Room by Millen Brand
New York : Simon and Schuster, 1937. First Edition. Hardcover. 309 pages ; 20 cm. Price clipped dust jacket with minimal wear. Previous owner name on front free endpaper. No other markings elsewhere. Pages toned and binding is firm.
As Sinclair Lewis says, this remarkable first novel tells a powerful and thoroughly satisfying love story. But it is a most unusual novel for another reason as well, in that it tells the story of the regeneration of a mind. Mr. Brand has handled his subject so surely, so competently, so excitingly that the reader is kept tense and concerned from first page to last.
The book opens in a mental hospital, to which Harriet Demuth has been committed several years before, after the shock resulting from the death of her brother in an automobile accident.
She begins to feel an overwhelming compulsion to break away. She escapes into the outside world. These passages dealing with the escape are breath-taking in their suspense and excitement. By hanging on beneath a railway car and by getting a lift, she finally manages to arrive in New York. There she lives for a short time on the money she obtains by pawning her ring. At last, penniless and hungry, she meets John, a machine-shop worker, who takes her home with him.
Gradually as life begins to crowd in upon her mind, Harriet becomes more and more normal. She does the dishes. She does the laundry. She finds that a multitude of little and great responsibilities are forcing her to become again a responsible person. She discovers that John, who is lovable, honest, is beginning to depend upon her. She falls in love with him. Together they face the supreme crisis of their lives.
That is all.
This short summary of The Outward Room's plot cannot begin to indicate the steadily increasing pull on the reader's emotions as he becomes more and more engrossed in the characters and lives of Harriet and John. Or the excellent background of lives and work and struggle that might be any city.
Some readers may see in The Outward Room a fictional counterpart of Clifford Beer's A Mind That Found Itself. Others will perhaps consider it simply as a love* story. The publishers believe that all will discover in it a new and mature talent.
About Millen Brand
Many people who read advance copies of The Outward Room felt that it revealed the inner workings of a woman's mind so thoroughly that they wondered if Millen Brand were the name of a man or a woman.
Many others, acquaintances of Millen Brand, were surprised to learn that he had written a book at all. To them, he was that quiet young family man living next door, the one who had been working for years somewhere in the depths of a large corporation. They didn't see how he had found time to write.
Neither did his publishers until they learned that Millen Brand got up at five every morning. And that he typed for two hours before starting a full day's work.
In writing The Outward Room, he went straight to sources for his facts. He made a careful study of mental hospitals, working closely with a trained analyst to ensure factual accuracy. He also went and talked to miners and workers in the metal trades and explored many little-known parts of New York City in search of authentic background. A great deal of this research work was done when most people were comfortably in bed, in the early morning or late at night. But because of it, he was able to study more than the surface of things. He went beneath and found the veins of meaning which give The Outward Room social as well as literary importance.
He is now thirty years old. He plays chess occasionally but is indifferent about most games. He is no automaton. He will cheerfully interrupt his writing schedule to spend evenings talking to his friends. He writes poetry—excellent poetry. And he has, according to his wife (who is Pauline Leader, author of And No Birds Sing), an irritatingly even disposition.
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