Friday, August 14, 2015

An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser

An American Tragedy
Title: An American Tragedy
Author: Theodore Dreiser
Publication Date: 1925
Pages: 859
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 7/21/15

Summary: Based on a real case, Dreiser elaborates on the story of a young man turned murderer and his incredible perception of himself and his actions.

What I Thought: I love Dreiser's writing. I loved it when I read Sister Carrie last year and I loved it in An American Tragedy. The base of each story actual comes out being fairly similar: a young American from a conservative midwestern family becomes slowly corrupted by the wiles and influences of the big city until their actions and attitudes are unrecognizable from their initial selves.

I went into the book unaware of main character Clyde's impending moral downfall. This made his slide into much more interesting for me. I certainly detected the pattern but, as he approached his dooming crime, I kept thinking Dreiser might take a turn and alter Clyde's course for the better. No such luck for the boy. Dreiser sends him straight for the electric chair.

Once again, I greatly appreciated Dresier's ability to move his character down a path through a series of small choices, rather than several monumental moments. Just as the characters in Sister Carrie, Clyde makes minute compromises one at a time, each leading him further down a path from which he cannot return. Really, the same can be said for Roberta as well. Dresier is a master of showing how daily decisions create lifestyles and life paths, not just the big moments which come along so rarely.

I do have to say, I found Clyde to be a perfectly awful person. Dresier does a wonderful job showing how Clyde sees himself and his decisions as sensible or justified. Yet, it's plain to the reader that Clyde is just terrible. His motivations and desires for social recognition and accomplishment override any sense of moral compass he may have. 

The book is like many from this era: long, overly detailed at points, but beautifully written. There is something about capturing the mundane aspects of the characters' lives which shapes the story unlike novels where the action is continual. Though this book barely qualifies as a product of the turn-of-the-century time period, I will count it as further evidence of my love for literature of that era. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: It wouldn't surprise me
If You Liked This Try: Angle of Repose / The Age of Innocence / Main Street
Other Books By Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie

A Reduced Review: Dreiser's fictional account of a real crime beautifully demonstrates the power of small decisions to shape the course of a life. 

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