Born in 1885 in Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis worked as a newspaper journalist before becoming an acclaimed novelist. Known for their satirical take on modern affairs, his best-known books include Main Street, Arrowsmith, Babbitt, and Dodsworth. In 1930, he became the first U.S. writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lewis died in1951 in Italy.
Main Street - The Original Classic Editionby Sinclair Lewis
We all know the story: Carol Kennicott (nee Milford), educated at
Advice for first time readers of Sinclair Lewis: Start with Main Street. I started with Babbitt, a worthy novel, but inferior to Main Street. They share a nimble, though often heavy handed touch of irony, and good characterization; and Mr. Lewis trenchant social commantary is present in both.
We all know the story: Carol Kennicott (nee Milford), educated at tiny Blodgett College, wants action: She wants to travel and live in a big city where she can see plays and hobnob with intellectuals. She meets future husband Dr. Will Kennicott at a St. Paul dinner party; (Throughout the novel, her feelings toward Will oscillate between admiration for his efficient practice and good nature, and discomfort with his depthless character). Will coaxes Carol onto a train bound for the hamlet of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. The bulk of the novel, which, considering the context, could be considered picaresque, consists of Carols haphazard attempts to reform the obdurate, immobile mindsets of the citizens of her new home. Among the improvements Carol suggests are a library board composed of the well read men of the town, and a campaign to renew interest in reading (In a town where the great books are bypassed for the contemporary moralistic, optimistic, and religious authors), and a theater company containing one fine actor and a supporting cast of hams, who bungle through one play (the frivolous Girl from Kankakee; poor carol had Shaw or Sophocles in mind. Throughout the novel, Carol evinces a blinding fear of living as a stereotypic denizen of the American Main Street; her fears are intensified by the birth of her son another fetter that could prevent a night train escape from Gopher Prairie), and the loss of several friends (the most notable being Miles Bjornstam, a Swedish horse trader who leaves for Canada after his wifes death) Made desperate by the seeming ineffectuality of her reform efforts, and these fears of decline into a town matron, Carol runs off to Washington D.C. for a period, before returning half broken to Gopher Prairie, tractable while still picturing herself as a maverick.
Main Street is truly a marvelous book, but there are flaws. Irony peppered moderately in a story can lend life and humor; too much can overwhelm the reader with a sense that the author has no other crutch than easy, predictable amusement. Also, this being an episodic novel, there sometimes seems to be little tying the book together save for the overpowering contagion of yearning for excitement, reform, and freedom that leaves Carol and others in Gopher Prairie so disappointed. These should not be deterent enough to suggest you steer clear of Main Street, though. As with every marred but overall fantastic booke light breaks the dark for the reader willing to overlook flaws that, were he or she writing the novel, he or she couldnt have ironed out. As glorious a work of literature as it is an historical document, this is a delight for any serious or recreational reader.
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