Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

It's been awhile, but the RNG finally drew another Modern Library Top 100 novel, and this one actually wasn't terrible.

Sister Carrie follows a small town girl who moves to Chicago to escape the drabness and parochial nature of her tiny burg. She imagines glamour, excitement, and all of the other glitz that comes with the "big city". She moves in with her working class sister and her husband, where this vision falls apart. She struggles to find a job and, when she finally does, she abhors her long hours and terrible working conditions as a seamstress. Luckily for her, she is quite the looker and is snatched up and taken care of by an up and coming young man who has fallen in love (or something along those lines) with her immediately. She finally gets to enjoy the social life she dreamed of when heading to Chicago.

Of course, as she gets used to this lifestyle she can't leave well enough alone and seeks "better", in the form of an older, more established man with more money. In a flurry of events, her and this new man run off together, first to Montreal and then to New York City. The two have a difficult time getting on their feet, and live destitute for quite some time. It is at this point that she begins her upward ascent as an actress and he begins his converse path from a weathy socialite to unemployed to beggar. Carrie moves on and he moves to the streets.

The book was not terribly engaging, but it was a somewhat easy read. The characters are well developed throughout the novel, but not of them have an iota of likability surrounding them. The best part of this book, by far, is the description of Chicago and New York City. Everything from the build environment, to the street cars, strikes, women's (and men's) fashion, and the Broadway scene is amazingly detailed. The reader can almost picture him or herself walking through these newly booming metropolises (that's certainly an awkward word), getting lossed in the hustle and bustle.

It's not a terribly uplifting story and in some place is actually pretty depressing. While it's a relatively interested story, it doesn't dive deep into the social commentary like something from Fitzgerald would. Regardless, it's enjoyable enough and if you like period fiction concerning the rise of the cities or the early Twentieth Century, this one might be worth checking out. I give Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser six out of ten stars.


I'm still a review behind since I just finished Plainsong by Kent Haruf, but I should have that one up soon. On deck after that is Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley. As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Falconer by John Cheever

I can't believe it has been almost a month since I've posted a new review. I've been putting off this one for a couple of weeks for a few reasons. The first of which is that I have been crazy busy with house stuff. Amazingly enough, renovating a 125 year old house isn't conducive to reading, let alone writing my reaction to what I have read. Who would have guessed?

The other is that I just didn't want to write anything about this novel. I didn't enjoy reading it and I didn't expect to get much fun out of writing about it. I'll go ahead and finally do it, but you can't make me like it!

Falconer is a faux-intellectual piece of work about a strung out drug addict named Farragut who is in jail for the murder of a certain someone (wouldn't want to ruin it for those of you who still want to read it after this review). Farragut also happens to be a middle class intellectual, unfortunately for us reading about him. Not a whole lot happens in this book; much is in the way of flashbacks that reference his wife and the tumultuous relationship it seems they had before he was incarcerated. There is a lot of music by Farragut about this an that as well.

Pretty much nothing of importance happens in this book. Sure, things happen, but very few of them are particularly exciting, engaging, or thought-provoking. The characters are formulaic, unrealistic and none act in a manner which I expect anyone would ever act in prison. None of them, and particularly not Farragut, are likable whatsoever. Some of them are pitiful, but none with redeeming qualities.

There is really no plot to analyze, only the daily life of a prisoner and the earlier mentioned flashbacks. Outside of a couple interesting moments, such as a prison riot (which amounted to nothing), this is a tremendously boring book. It took me quite a long time tp read, all outside factors held constant, despite barely being over 200 pages. Even the writing itself is quite annoying. The dialogue is completely absurd at points and high culture references are made frequently for absolutely no reason. This is 1970's suburban edginess at its stupid, cringingly vacuous worst.

It should be noted that there is a good deal of content in this novel that could be considered obscene by some. If you are the type who burns books or tries to get them banned from libraries, this one probably isn't for you. There is a pretty good amount of vulgar language and explicit sexual content. Strangely enough, this didn't bother me as much as the writing and the rest of the book itself. Frankly, I was offended by how crappy the book was as a whole, completely outside of any potentially offensive material.

With all of this terrible-ness in mind, I give Falconer by John Cheever three stars out of ten. There is virtually no reason to pick up this book unless you're a huge John Cheever fan (do those exist?) and this is the last book of his you haven't read yet. Otherwise, don't waste your time.


I promise it won't be another month before I get another review up. I actually just finished Sister Carrie (#33 on Modern Library top 100) by Theodore Drieser, which is what prompted me to get my butt in gear so I didn't have to stack up reviews. Next up after that will be Plainsong by Kent Haruf. See you soon!