In happier times
May Day is a novella for our times. Short, sweet and packed with the rich and poor of ’20s New York. Rich Ivy league graduates throwing extravagant parties. A savage reflection on the American class system, the brutality of the kind of social free market economics which have spread across the Atlantic in the last century lies at the heart of the novel, contrasting as it does the lavish wealth of one side with the total poverty of the other through the nexus of one young man caught between these two financial continents as they pull away from each other.
The soldiers are narrow, close minded, institutionalised: “The entire mental pabulum of these two men consisted of an offended nasal comment extended through the years upon the institution – army, business or poorhouse – which kept them alive, and toward their immediate superior in that institution.”
The Ivy Leaguers, epitomised in the body of Philip Dean, are wealthy and oblivious – perpetuating a kind of cultivated ignorance of the plight of others: “Dean stiffened a bit more. The pats he was bestowing on his knees grew perfunctory. He felt vaguely that he was being unfairly saddled with responsibility: he was not even sure he wanted to be told. Though never surprised at finding Gordon Sterrett in mild difficulty, there was something in this present misery that repelled him and hardened him, even though it excited his curiosity.”
Perhaps, in an age of austerity in the UK, the fall and end of Gordon Sterrett can be a reminder to us of the plight of those less fortunate (though I am not sure we are supposed to feel sympathy as much as empathy for him), but more importantly the book reminds us that we are mostly less fortunate than some and more fortunate than many others.