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Our Square

January 15, 2012

In his two books of “Our Square” stories, Our Square and the People in it and From a Bench in Our Square, Samuel Hopkins Adams veers dangerously close to Eleanor Hallowell Abbott territory: everyone is named things like Cyrus the Gaunt, the Bonnie Lassie, the Little Red Doctor, or the Weeping Scion, and more than half the stories are adorable romances between peculiar young men and beautiful, wealthy young women, cookie cutter-like in their similarity. And if he never gets quite as twee as Abbott, he also doesn’t have her touch with hysteria.

But that’s not to say that the stories aren’t a lot of fun. Barring a few missteps and a dead dog, they are. All the stories revolve around the titular square, which is never named but is apparently located in New York City somewhere east of and considerably less bohemian than Washington Square. It’s not a slum, but it’s surrounded by them, and it’s not wealthy, but it is home to a couple of small mansions. It’s populated by a rotating cast of characters. Dominie, an elderly scholar, narrates the stories. The Bonnie Lassie is a well known sculptor and the benevolent ruler of Our Square, and Cyrus the Gaunt is her husband. Then there’s The Little Red Doctor (whose name describes him perfectly), Terry the Cop and McLachan the tailor. Polyglot Elsa is the waitress in the local restaurant. Madam Rachel Pinckney Pemberton Tallafferr is a transplanted remnant of the plantation aristocracy. Wolfe Tone Hanrahan is “the Human Judge.” Most of the other inhabitants only show up once or twice.

I’ve tried to pick out some favorites, but in looking at the tables of contents I find that the stories run together quite a bit. The first story, “Our Square” is fun, and necessary reading if you want to know who the Bonnie Lassie and Cyrus the Gaunt are, and I really enjoyed the first and longest story in the second book, “A Patroness of Art.” “The House of the Silvery Voices” is the one with the dead dog, so I have a hard time with it. “For Mayme, Read Mary” is the one with the Weeping Scion, and also World War I. “The Great Peacemaker” also revolves around the war, and is sad but adorable and also contains a lot of Polyglot Elsa. “MacLachan of Our Square” and “The Little Red Doctor of Our Square” deserve better than they get. I think my favorites, though are the following: “The Guardian of God’s Acre,” which is about a clash between a sexton with too rigid a conception of sin and a “sporting gentleman” who is a lot more of a person that you would expect, and “The Meanest Man in our Square,” which pits the local miser against a lawyer who preys on the poor and features one of the several enjoyable appearances of Wolfe Tone Hanrahan, the Human Judge.

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