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!

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