"By Ralph D. Gray; Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007; $19.95; www.indianahistory.org
Noted Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson (1866-1947) receives well-balanced treatment in his first major biography. Ralph Gray’s readable narrative allows Nicholson to be revealed personally as well as professionally. We witness Nicholson emerge as a best-selling novelist, in league with his contemporaries James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington and George Ade.
Gray shows how this high school dropout utilized the new Indianapolis Public Library to gain an eclectic education and a zeal for civic engagement. Nicholson shaped his writing life as a balance between fanciful romance and realism via social problem novels. He admired a good storyteller, becoming one of the best himself. As an essayist, he “Prods folks to meet their responsibilities in a democracy.”
Gray contends A Hoosier Chronicle is probably Nicholson’s “most significant and probably his best novel.” Also never out of print is the thriller The House of a Thousand Candles. Nevertheless, if you have time for only one Nicholson book, make it The Valley of Democracy, which remains the best analysis of the distinctive qualities of Midwesterners, individually and as a collective. Gray adds an important volume to the IHS Press Indiana Biography Series.