The last book I reviewed for this site was Janice Hallett’s The Appeal, in which most of the characters were involved with an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Though it was clearly tangential to the plot and unnecessary to parse the mystery, I was still a tad embarrassed to be unfamiliar with the play. So I decided to rectify that.
Miller’s play tells the story of two families, the Kellers and the Deevers, who used to be next-door neighbors. The fathers were in business together manufacturing airplane parts for the military during the Second World War until a faulty batch caused a series of deadly plane crashes and landed both men in jail. Joe Keller was able to get out on appeal, leading most of the blame to fall on Steve Deever. The resulting shame led the remaining Deevers to move to New York, while Joe Keller started a new plant and is once again prospering.
Joe Keller’s two sons both served in the war, but only Chris came home. Their mother Kate can’t accept that Larry is dead, and insists that he will come home someday. This becomes a problem when Chris decides he wants to marry Larry’s girlfriend, who also happens to be Ann Deever.
It’s a potent setup, full of possibilities. Each character has suspicions they’re both afraid to admit to and dying to tell somebody about. The complex relationships between the characters are remarkably well-drawn for a short play. We see the way Joe and Chris Keller differ in the ways in which they’re willing to defer to Kate’s pathetic hopefulness. We see the resentment George Deever, Ann’s brother, has for Joe Keller contrasted with his deep affection for Kate. We see the love between Ann and Chris tested by their love for their fathers.
Eventually, the cats are let out of their respective bags, with devastating consequences. Miller does a remarkable job setting up his punches without letting the audience get ahead of him, and the finale is a real barnburner as a result.