I no longer remember where I bought H. M. Pulham, Esquire, by John P Marquand. It sat in my bookcase for a while, and I only remembered I had it when I read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, and the title popped up in a throw-away line. I finally got around to reading the book during my mini-vacation in the mountains — what better time and place, really, than in a snug cabin, feeling warm and secure while the wind howled outside? And it was about security: Harry Pulham, brought up in security, decided on a life of security, a security defined and delineated by his class, his upbringing, his education, his job, his wife. The couple of times he stepped outside himself — first for the Great War, then for Marvin (the girl who got away) — he did not quite know what to do with the new world order he saw and barely comprehended. Harry was completely decent, and only wanted to do the right thing. If he knew, vaguely, that he lost something along the way, one must always give him credit for being true to his essential self: the man who understood that it was right and honorable to sacrifice his dreams for the happiness of those he loved, and did so with minimal fuss. In a defining scene, Harry’s father said, “It isn’t any news that any of us are going to die, but we like to think we’re going to be remembered.” At the end of the book, Harry finally completed his life story for his class reunion, and it was indeed as conforming and banal as all the personal histories that had gone before him. Harry knew he would not be remembered, and perhaps that was as it should be.
Do we really want to be remembered? My book was owned by a Freda Jackson (signed December 13, 1945) and by Winsor W. McLean, who must have liked the book enough to take it with him when moved from Los Angeles to Glendale, California. Being a nosy historian, I naturally googled Winsor W. McLean, and ended up on the Wimberly family history site. He was the only son of Neil McLean and Annie Laura Wimberly McLean, born in 1897 and named after the man who married his parents. The family history website had a fair amount of information on Neil McLean, but nothing other than Winsor McLean’s birth and death dates. But I love small coincidences: he died in 1974, in Van Nuys, California. I imagine that perhaps at some point, I may have bumped into him. Who knows?