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Winesburg, Ohio ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (24)

This collection of stories is not truly a novel.  In fact, most of the stories were published separately, in magazines.  They only seem to be unified by their setting in Winesburg (based on Anderson's hometown, Clyde OH), their depictions of small town Americans as victims of various personality pathologies and the recurring character George Willard (Anderson as a young man).

Anderson's original title for the collection was "The Book of the Grotesque".  Malcolm Cowley's introduction, in the edition that I read, argues that the characters are grotesque in so far as they are isolated from mankind by their inability to communicate.  He says that George Willard, a young newspaperman, recurs in the stories because the characters hope that he will communicate for them.

I have no argument with this interpretation, but I do oppose the condescending attitude that it, probably correctly, attributes to the author.  Anderson, like Sinclair Lewis & Theodore Dreiser & many other writers of the time, seems to have believed that the people of small town America must have been leading lives of quiet desperation.  As if it was impossible to believe that their lives were satisfying and fulfilling.  Actually, it seems like intellectual elites always assume that most people must be unhappy with their lives, when in point of fact, it is they who are dissatisfied.

I'm afraid I side with the critics of the book, who Cowley says called it "pessimistic..destructive..morbidly sexual".  I would instead urge readers to try Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (see review).

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)

  

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