Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An American Tragedy (by Theodore Dreiser)

I loved the beginning of this book, which is so open and frank and full of interesting details. It’s a bildungsroman about a boy whose fatal flaw is being horny, basically. The book doesn’t shy away from acknowledging things like abortion and prostitution and birth control, either. And it paints an interesting picture of a wholly convincing social world, and a main character who’s somewhat of an antihero—more aggravating than sympathetic. It’s sophisticated and unpredictable and a lot of fun to read.

However. Once it gets to the tragedy part, which I won’t spoil, the novel becomes extremely dragging, repetitive, melodramatic, and predictable. And mind you, this goes on for hundreds and hundreds of pages. The beginning of the book keeps you wondering and guessing—what will become of Clyde?—but once you’re in the middle section and you realize what’s happening, the progression of the rest of the book is painfully obvious.

I guess that the plot, which seems so very conventional at the moment, was at one point not conventional at all, hence this book’s appearance on the list. (This is a guess on my part. I’m sure its honesty was also appealing.) But as engaged as I was at the beginning, by the mid-point of the book I just wanted to get it over with.

"And besides, as he now saw, this girl was really pretty. She had on a Delft blue evening gown of velvet, with slippers and stockings to match. In her ears were blue earrings and her neck and shoulders and arms were plump and smooth. The most disturbing thing about her was that her bodice was cut very low—he dared scarcely look at her there—and her cheeks and lips were painted—most assuredly the marks of the scarlet woman. Yet she did not seem very aggressive, in fact quite human, and she kept looking rather interestedly at his deep and dark and nervous eyes." (Chapter 10)


Blogger Beth said...

But you still have to see A Place in the Sun. Because it is very good, and I think the movie gets the pacing a little better.

Plus, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are so pretty you just want to eat them, and Shelley Winters is so good.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Purl said...

Beth is right; the movie is terrific.

I'm sorry to hear about the book, because it sounded good.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous littlem said...

You know there's also a whole opera based on it (premiering at the Met almost as we speak). Nathan Gunn does the baritone, but the mezzos almost out-gun him (sorry, sorry, I COULDN'T resist).

So the singers are outstanding, but honestly? I think the plot's revolting. Enough to give Woody Allen ideas *cough* MatchPoint *cough*.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Leishalynn said...

Have you seen the film yet? Total agreement on its beauty & pacing with beth above.

I agree with your assessment, too, about the richness early on in the book as opposed to later. What it was like to be a bellboy, for example, his thoughts on socializing and detailed descriptions of the places he visited and the people he knew I found to be fascinating, the sort of thing that most readers today would not indulge, despite its value.

Even though it descends into the predictable, didn't Dreiser paint for you well the picture of the betrayed fundamentalist mother with the child who'd gone wrong? Whether I can see it coming or not, if the prose is well-executed, I still need to acknowledge that mastery.

11:16 AM  

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