They Shall Inherit the Earth
is among the most ambitious of Morley Callaghan's early novels. Its concerns are vast: Callaghan attempts, through a few entirely ordinary characters, to encapsulate as many of the crises of Depression-era Canada as he can, from economic hard times to religious doubt and familial collapse. Callaghan's protagonist, Michael Aikenhead, is the unemployed and estranged son of Andrew Aikenhead, a wealthy advertising magnate. In an earnest attempt at familial reconciliation, Andrew invites his son to join the family for a week's vacation at their country house. There are hints of promise at first, but the holiday quickly turns sour when Michael becomes implicated in the drowning of his half-brother, a spoiled and repellent young man named Dave Choate. Andrew Aikenhead becomes publicly associated with the drowning, and the Aikenhead family begins to plummet to their ruin. Michael's moral progress in the wake of this disaster takes up of the bulk of the novel--a long hard push toward reconciliation, renewal, and grace.
This is serious territory, and Callaghan's attention to moral subtleties is reminiscent of Turgenev or Dostoyevsky. Unfortunately, Callaghan's craft is not up to the standards of his forebears (or of his cosmopolitan friends Hemingway and Fitzgerald); his dialogue is generally stilted, his characters are stock, and his plot meanders far more than is necessary. They Shall Inherit the Earth is among the most insightful accounts of Ontario during the Depression, but Callaghan's gifts are far more apparent in his short stories. --Jack Illingworth
--This text refers to the
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About the Author
Morley Callaghan’s literary circle included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Joyce. In a career spanning more than six decades, he published sixteen novels and more than one hundred works of short fiction.