Sunday, November 29, 2009
Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #68
Title: Main Street
Author: Sinclair Lewis
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: Remember the old Dover Thrift Editions we had to read in high school with the weird paisley-ish prints on their covers? Those were weird. This must be a classy Dover Thrift Edition...
Thoughts: Main Street is the story of Carol Kennicott, a St. Paul librarian who trades in her big city aspirations for small town life when she falls in love with a country doctor. Carol moves to fictional Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, an Anytown, USA, and soon finds herself suffocating beneath the scrutiny and small-mindedness of the townsfolk. The story follows her attempts to buck the system and bring ambitious reform to the town.
Lewis writes as someone who is intimately familiar with the workings of American small towns. Even though the book was originally published in 1920, much of what Lewis describes still rings true today: the doting mother of the town bad boy who can't see her son for who he truly is, the ostracization of the artistic young man, the town's labeling of anything they dislike as "pro-German" during the war years (remember the accusations of things being "terrorist"?).
This book was really sad at times, but eventually left me feeling a bit hopeful. I could relate to Carol's feelings of slowly being sucked into home life and losing her dreams, although my Man Friend certainly doesn't misunderstand me the way that her husband does. But Carol eventually finds a balance, and her story is the story of another America (an off-Main Street America, perhaps), one in which we live day to day in the "humdrum inevitable tragedy of struggle against inertia", as Lewis terms it. Definitely a worthwhile read.