This was the longest time I've ever spent reading an Irwin Shaw novel. I somehow thought this would be one of his better written ones, as the Red ScarThis was the longest time I've ever spent reading an Irwin Shaw novel. I somehow thought this would be one of his better written ones, as the Red Scare had personally affected him. Turns out I was wrong.
"The Troubled Air" concerns Clement Archer, the director of a popular radio program. Archer is a well-liked man in his forties, who is dealing with his wife's pregnancy as well as his teenage daughter's nearing venture into adulthood.
In the midst of his quiet life, Archer is told that he must release several actors as well as the composer from the show. Concerned and confused, he inquires into the reasoning behind their impending dismissal. Archer is informed that the show's sponsor has received a listing of individuals who have reportedly been involved in Communist activities. The actors and the show's composer are among those listed. Believing this to be untrue, Archers' relentlessness allows him to be provided the opportunity to conduct a two-week investigation. He meets with each of them, some of who have become aware that their employment is in jeopardy. However, Archer is most concerned of Vic Herres, one of the accused. Herres is Archer's best friend and former pupil. Archer's investigation finds that of everyone, only one of the actors is an open communist. Others may only have been previously involved in activities that are currently perceived as communist friendly. Before Archer can reveal his findings, he is told that he must dismiss everyone in spite of his investigation.
In hopes of preventing their release, Archer breaks the token rule of personally contacting the sponsor. He flies to Philadelphia to speak with Mr. Sandler, the show's secretive sponsor. Sandler listens intently to Archer's findings. However, his strong stance on anti-communism reveals to Archer that saving every one of the accused is unlikely. After some discussion, Sandler allows two of the actors to stay on so long as Archer personally vouches for them and swears they're not communists. As a result, Alice Weller and Herres are allowed to keep their positions.
Yet, all is not well upon his return. Archer is perceived by his colleagues as a collaborator with the groups behind the growing dismissals of actors and others associated with the entertainment industry. The public regards Archer as a communist sympathizer. His personal life comes crashing down at the same time as his professional. The decision to prevent his family from becoming fully aware of the growing problems he is facing has large consequences.
Eventually, Archer realizes that his life is far from perfect. He is immersed in much more than he can handle, and he discovers his wife's unhappiness. In the midst of chaos, Archer is fired as it has been discovered that Herres is a very prominent communist. His wife goes into early labor and they lose the baby. The Red Scare has only just begun and their future is uncertain. In spite of everything, Archer is prepared to face whatever awaits.
As previously stated, I expected so much more of this novel. The tone was extremely bleak but Shaw would have been far more successful had he featured a much more interesting main character. While Archer was certainly noble in his fight, he was extremely naive and delusional about the reality of everything. I so would have preferred if Shaw had chosen to focus on O'Neill or Herres who likely had a far interesting tale, and knew a great deal more. I was annoyed by Shaw's decision to portray women as either pathetically weak, or strong-willed with the incapability of handling emotion. It was almost as though each and every women mentioned was a nuisance that had to be handled gently. Strangely enough, I was happiest when Archer's wife finally confronts him as there is finally someone shown with some backbone.
All in all, as disappointed as I was, I found the book to be decent. Shaw progresses the story well.