Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser
A realistic novel, and a wonderful one. A long one too; unfortunately, it weakens at the end. Carrie’s success in the theater is too swift and easily gained, and her ultimate loneliness struck me as false (she could meet men who would please her – she has a warm and loving nature). The effect on her of the idealistic Ames also seems false. As for Hurstwood’s decline, he only makes appearances in which he’s more and more pitiable. So the author loses his way. But what precedes that? A psychological study of three people and an in-depth look at city life and society (or two societies, that of the Haves and the Have-Nots; the book is largely about money). Dreiser treats his characters with compassion. No one is evil; no one is innocent. Carrie, in abandoning two men, can’t be condemned; she acts out of necessity, like we humans do. Though the novel is a tragedy, in the beginning Dreiser evoked a peculiar luminous shimmer, as a young Carrie views the world opening before her, so full of potential. *

Thirteen Stories - Eudora Welty
Disappointing. I wasn’t amused by the outlandish characters nor by the vernacular-type humor, which is on a par with the lowly pun. Welty’s prose is good – of course it is! – but it isn’t put to any worthwhile use. The best story (I didn’t read them all) was the most serious: “The Hitch-Hikers.” At least in this one the author dealt with real people, not stereotypical Southern oddballs.

Angel Pavement - J. B. Priestley
A novel suffused with atmosphere – the city of London (circa 1930) comes alive, wet streets and all. The author concerns himself with “ordinary” people – people who hold white collar jobs of little importance. But he doesn’t treat them with condescension. He cares about their lives and so did I. Priestley has a style of prose in which words do a lot of inventive work while never impeding the narrative flow. Though the novel has a pleasing heft, it should have been lightened a bit by cutting down on the part played by the Turgis character. His involvement with the Golgis girl is far-fetched and his misery strung out; also, matters turned melodramatic, which didn’t fit in with the solid, pedestrian nature of the rest of the book. Priestley is at his best with ordinary events and encounters and tribulations. He presents life as a hard affair in which humans try to wrest some happiness – and often don’t succeed. The type for whom life’s pleasures come easily are the selfish and uncaring and amoral.


Phillip Routh said...

I saw the movie version of Sister Carrie - called "Carrie" - directed by William Wyler and with a screenplay by Ruth and Augustus Goetz.
As I wrote in my review, I had trouble with the ending of the novel. The Goetzes turn it into Hurstwood's story. In their version I understood the trap he was in, the need he had; his decline into destitution was believable - and moving.
Wyler and the Goetzes also collaborated on "The Heiress," one of the best (and most intelligent) films I've ever seen. They greatly improved the novel it was based on, Henry James' Washington Square. They made the story deeper, more complex.

jimmy scoville said...

I'm really glad I looked at your review of Sister Carrie, because I was considering taking it up as my next read; however after seeing your points, I am keen on not reading it. Or at least not at this time when my mind is faultering, fragmented, quite fractured. I need a different kind of story, one not flawed.

Phillip Routh said...

Flawed, yes, but still a moving and evocative novel.
It's long and somewhat laborious (Dreiser was a plodding writer).
And it's a tragedy.

kmoomo said...

I am now curious to read "The Hitch-Hikers" as a balance to the Eudora Welty story I am reading,"The Optimist's Daughter", which is supposedly one of her best. I am having a lot of trouble getting through it and its odd assortment of characters of which I can't keep track.