Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie
It's been over a month since my last review of a 100 Best Novels book. I have felt terribly delinquent. This summer has not exactly been my shining moment of progress on this goal. Still, I edge a little forward with each book, so I should focus on that.

In my first few weeks working from home, I actually discovered I had less time for working on this list of classics. A lot of my time spent on them in the past has been listening to audio versions while getting ready in the morning and on my way to and from work. That commute now only takes me about ten seconds and I rarely get dressed and do my hair and makeup first thing in the morning.

I think I've found a solution, though. I listen while exercising. Yeah, I realize the very idea of me exercising is practically laughable, but I've started. Having more time at home has opened up time to fit regular workouts into my schedule. So, while I work my way around our neighborhood and into a sweat, I listen to the classic. Not sure what I'll do once I start going to the university pool to do laps, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

All that to say, I finally finished Sister Carrie. Theodore Dreiser's novel tells the story of a small town girl who makes her way to Chicago and, eventually, New York City. Her story and that of the men she associates with captures the ups and down of life in turn of the twentieth century American cities. She makes some morally ambiguous choices, but ultimately becomes (spoiler) a stage sensation. On the other hand, the man who tricked her into running away with him, George Hurtstwood, falls slowly into the despairs of poverty. 

I greatly enjoyed this novel. I would rank it up there for me with The Magnificent Ambersons. I mean, we all know how much I love turn-of-the-century settings. Something about that era and the style of writing then captures me and I can't shake it, nor do I want to.

To me, one of the strongest things about the novel is the grace with which Dreiser plots the rise and fall of his characters. He does nothing abruptly. Everything that happens is believable and he has led the character and the reader to that point with a series of small actions, just the way life really plays out. There are few great turning points, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, the small, daily choices the characters make define their outcomes. I can think of few better lessons to impart.

Reading Sister Carrie made me very excited for Dreiser's other novel on the list, An American Tragedy. While Sister Carrie ranks #33 on the list, the other novel falls all the way up at #16. Since I obviously enjoy Dreiser's writing style, characters, and time period, I think I'll greatly enjoy this other work. I feel like I did after reading The Age of Innocence, as though I have to savor Dreiser and Edith Wharton's work and save their second novels on the list for a time when I'm really unmotivated for the challenge and need a spark of inspiration again. 

Pages: 580
Date Completed: September 12, 2014

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