In this sardonic portrait of the up-and-coming middle class during the prosperous 1920s, Sinclair Lewis perfectly captures the sound, the feel, and the attitudes of the generation that created the cult of consumerism. With a sharp eye for detail and keen powers of observation, Lewis tracks successful realtor George Babbitt's daily struggles to rise to the top of his profession while maintaining his reputation as an upstanding family man.
On the surface, Babbitt appears to be the quintessential middle-class embodiment of conservative values and enthusiasm for the well-to-do lifestyle of the small entrepreneur. But beneath the complacent façade, he also experiences a rising, nameless discontent. These feelings eventually lead Babbitt into risky escapades that threaten his family and his standing in the community. Though published 80 years ago, this acerbic depiction of majority Americans, obsessed with success, material comfort, and midlife doubt, still rings true.
Public Domain (P)2010 Tantor
"[It is] by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis's work excels." (Virginia Woolf)
I went into school teacher--or rather high school student--mode while I listed to this. I knew--partly from experience--that Lewis is a great writer; I also knew that satire is an amazing--and even entertaining--rhetorical style. I also knew that Babbitt is considered a classic. So, I listened and listened, and listened some more. Then I plodded along a little longer until at last I staggered to the end. I worked the whole time through: I analyzed, wondered, recognized moments of literary flair, eagerly chuckled at stylized and marvelous absurdites from characters and events. I even presented a book discussion to a small group af eager women, who seemed to have appreciated the book and author, too.
But . . it was a long, correctly executed journey. I didn't hate it--not at all: I could recognize its worth and even its very modern applications. . . . But why didn't I enjoy it? It had a story line that worked . . .yet it went on endlessly.
It's just me, but I'm wondering if perhaps satires are most successful as short stories. I think most people either "get it" (the satire and wisdom) quite soon . . . or not at all. Alas, no amount of beating us over the head will often change our opinions one way or the other. And I guess that's the novel's one flaw: it goes on and on long after the reader should have gotten the point and learned the lessons. Lewis keeps beating us with satirical joy and despair long after we've had our fill of chuckling and internalizing.
Still . . . I strongly recommend reading Babbitt--it will do you good! (that's me as a teacher teacher speaking)
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