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Point of No Return

A Novel
Narrated by: Christopher Lane
Length: 19 hrs and 46 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary

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A #1 New York Times bestseller by a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist: A successful Manhattan banker is haunted by his humble New England roots.

Raised in the small town of Clyde, Massachusetts, Charles Gray has worked long and hard to become a vice president at the privately owned Stuyvesant Bank in Manhattan. But at the most crucial moment of his career, when his focus should be on reading his boss's intentions and competing with his chief rival for promotion, Charles finds himself hopelessly distracted by the past.

Years ago, the Gray family was featured in a sociological study of their hometown. Charles, his sister, and their parents were classified as members of the "lower-upper class," the unspoken strains of their tenuous social status cast in stark black and white. A chance encounter with the author of the study fills Charles's head with memories - and when a business matter compels him to return to Clyde, it seems as if fate is intent on turning back the clock. As he reflects on the defining moments of his youth, Charles contends with one of the central mysteries of existence: how our lives can feel both predetermined and random at the same time.

Published in 1949, Point of No Return is a brilliant study of character and place heralded by the New York Times as "further proof that its author is one of the most important living American novelists."

©1947, 1948, 1949 John P. Marquand (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

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  • Bibliobabbler
  • 29-08-19

Marvelous Narration of Marquand's Finest Novel

A masterfully controlled, intricately woven masterwork about the present, and most significantly the past, of a businessman of the first half of the early 20th century. The narrator's skillfully inflected voice could hardly have been improved upon, so deftly does it convey the melancholy mood and the measured pace of this novel. John P. Marquand is one of those once-prominent writers we mostly don’t remember but somehow can’t quite forget. Marquand died in 1960, after riding the best-seller lists throughout the 1940s and ’50s, and shortly thereafter so did interest in his writing. Marquand’s critical reputation never reached Everest altitudes. It could not even be said of him what Somerset Maugham said of himself, that he was in the front rank of the second-raters. Marquand was tarred – with some justice, and for his part, with some perverse pride – with the brush of “formula writing,” a label he earned from his lucrative years of writing for “slick” or “smooth” magazines, mostly the old Saturday Evening Post. Nevertheless, in the 1940s and ‘50s he produced, among his many works, a small handful of novels that received some critical acclaim, most notably “The Late George Apley” (for which he won the Pulitzer), “Wickford Point” (wickedly witty and satirical), and this one, “Point of No Return,” his best. It is told, like others, employing Marquand’s patented, mesmerizing flashback technique, and, also like the others, is concerned with the central character’s past. In this case the central character is Charles Gray, a banker in the late 1940s, who returns after many years to his hometown of Clyde, Massachusetts, on an assignment from his bank. The assignment is brief, no more than two days, but all through the long novel frequent flashbacks serve as ruminations on how his family, particularly his father, and the experiences of his boyhood and young manhood contributed to the man he has become. The subjects of the ruminations are many, but the chief one probably is fate – or destiny, or predestination, or even freedom. Was there never any possibility of his escaping the path his life took? He is not discontented, not really, or anyway not deeply. He does not scorn his hometown; he likes it and defends it against criticisms. But did certain constraints of his life there prevent him becoming something other than this man who is striving for promotion at the bank? At the end he experiences in his mind a short flash of “freedom” – and subsequent relief -- that suggests the answer might be “yes” and he may be off that long path and onto the path of “freedom.” And then the very last couple of pages suggest something different.

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