They Shall Inherit the Earth

The Drink


-From So Red the Nose

IMG_0531FUN FACT: Noilly Prat Original Dry is not sold in Arizona. Or… perhaps even the United States, I’m still trying to figure that one out. So pirates will have to wait till I can get France to send me some.

To tide you ever until then, we have this tasty little number, the unwieldily-named They Shall Inherit the Earth cocktail. This is definitely up there as one of the most drinkable cocktails I’ve made for the blog.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a big fan of sweet and sour, and the combination of Cointreau and lemon is a no-brainer. The edition of Benedictine adds a nice flavor and makes the drink just sweet enough, without getting into saccharine territory. It definitely has that old-fashioned flavor I was craving when I started this project and I can totally imagine its namesake’s snootier characters enjoying a cocktail glass full of it in front of the fire.

The Book


Death touches you everywhere; it’s on the streets, and in your mind, and it’s what destroys everything we hope for and everything we try to hold.

– From They Shall Inherit the Earth

They Shall Inherit the Earth was published in 1935 by our first and perhaps only Canadian author, the illustrious Morley UnemployedMarchCallaghan. Allow me to summarize this book’s structure:

80 pages of murder, lies, and dark family secrets
246 pages of boring, pointless meandering
2 pages of a surprising, ambiguous but still satisfying pay-off

The plot is essentially the same as that of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment– albeit with completely different themes, rationales, and, especially, conclusion. Our main protagonist, the young, broke Michael Aikenhead commits a heinous crime of passion early on and then spends the rest of the novel faffing around while he wrestles with his guilt and tries to justify his actions.

But that’s really only one small part of this book, which is rich with many timely, mid-century themes. We get see the emptiness of a life devoted to making money (with Michael’s father, an ad executive during the Great Depression. Yikes.), the disaffection and restlessness of the youth in a struggling world (which is beginning to turn into an actual social movement, as Michael and his friends start to think the Russians have the right idea), and the generational conflicts that arise with changing sexual mores (also related to economics, as Michael’s shacking up/scandalization of old ladies is originally partly for the couple’s mutual financial benefit).

So that’s a premise I can get behind, but is the book any good?

Forgotten classic or better left in the past?

1930s_Toronto_YongeandQueenStWell, yeah. As you may have surmised, They Shall Inherit the Earth wasn’t super compelling to me personally, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate how well this complex story was put together. Callaghan manages to weave together several complex themes and create a solid cast characters with a lot of depth. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before where the reader knows the secret fears and hopes of such tertiary figures as the main characters’ business contacts and casual bar buddies.

For that matter, this was the first time I’ve seen “third person omniscient” outside of a standardized reading exam. It was a little head-spinning to know what every single character was thinking at all times, but I think Callaghan uses it to the story’s advantage. It was even kind of refreshing. I never wasted any energy trying to figure the characters out; instead, I could focus on the development of their relationships with each other.

If I had one legitimate literary complaint about the novel, it’s that the dialogue, especially the internal kind, is super awkward-sounding and exposition-y, although I’m not sure how much of that style is intentional. Let me give you an example and you tell me:

“What on earth have these questions to do with a simple business transaction?” Jay said aloud. “My business judgment built up over a period of years tells me there’s only one thing to do. If he’s sensible and in his right mind, he’ll agree with me. As a matter of fact, I’d be ashamed of Andrew Aikenhead if he ever tried to turn the matter into a sentimental human relationship.”

feedingWho talks like that? And to his wife, no less, who is already well aware of his “business judgment built over a period of years” and the nature of any “sentimental human relationship(s)” he may have. I have yet to meet anyone with so much self-awareness and so little regard for sounding like a psychology textbook that they constantly and precisely describe their own motivations the way the characters in this book do. I don’t know; maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

And the middle section of this book just feels so…obligatory. Like, I know Callaghan has all these interesting ideas that I should be thinking deep, profound thoughts about, but I just can’t be bothered to give a crap when the story has no momentum and the characters have no drive. I was constantly fighting the impulse to skim.

The internet tells me Callaghan is more remembered for his short stories, which completely makes sense considering how much I was into the first couple chapters before the novel lost all forward motion.

However, while I can’t work up much enthusiasm for this book, if any of the themes listed sound interesting to you, I don’t think you’ll regret reading it. I don’t, not really, even though the most positive adjective I can use to describe They Shall Inherit the Earth is “interesting.”

They Shall Inherit the Earth is available from Amazon in used form only. 

Next time: Well, you already heard next time’s next time last time, so I’ll write this time’s next time now:

Sex, lies, and communism. Oh, Canada.


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