You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Ward Moore (1903 - 1978), one of the writers on the Pringle list, was new to me. And now it turns out that I have gone and read the wrong book.

I think I know how it happened. Since I was not familiar with Moore, I did in depth research on him. I read his entire entry on Wikipedia. His novel on the Pringle list is Bring the Jubilee (1953), an alternative history that imagines modern America if the South had won the Civil War. But while scanning sentence summaries of his other works on Wikipedia I noticed this brief entry:

Greener Than You Think , a novel about unstoppable Bermuda grass.

"Unstoppable Bermuda grass." I liked the sound of that. I honestly forgot the novel I was supposed to be looking for and checked Greener Than You Think out from the library. This is no ordinary Bermuda grass we are talking about.

The novel opens in Los Angeles with a down-on-his-luck salesman named Albert Weener answering, against his better judgment, a newspaper ad promising "$50 or more daily to top producers." It ends, decades later, with Weener, Josephine Spencer Francis, and a few others trying out a new formula of weed killer in a world that has already been consumed by mutant Bermuda grass, grass that grows 100 feet tall and can root not only in soil but in concrete, brick, wood, glass, and I suppose the decomposing humanity left in its wake.

This is a very funny book, with a cast of characters that includes Weener and Miss Francis --she's the kitchen scientist who creates the growth formula that mutates the grass-- along with stock characters such as a constantly fulminating newspaper editor, a drunken ex-Naval officer, and a battalion of inept politicians and scientists. Several reviewers on Good Reads have complained that the characters are unlikable. I can't remember who it was, but I know I recently read an established novelist wondering why Amazon reviewers so often make that complaint. Who says characters have to be likable? Especially in the rarified field of apocalyptic comedy. Miss Francis, at least, keeps working on a solution, right up to the very end. As she insists, these things take time. But Albert Weener is Moore's brilliant creation. He's a self-absorbed hustler who during the course of the novel stumbles into becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world. It is not until those final few days, as the grass consumes Europe and the British Isles, that he begins to think this situation might be getting really serious.

Ward Moore wrote very little. He worked in a bookstore in Chicago, was maybe briefly in the Communist party, moved to California, and wound up the book editor for Frontier, a West Coast magazine along the lines of The Nation. At times Greener Than You Thnk gets a bit long-winded, but it has the distinction, as far as I know, of being the most enjoyable end-of-the-world novel out there.


  1. This book is out of copy right and therefore free to those who want to download it.

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