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An American Tragedy ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (16)

Theodore Dreiser is considered to be the leading American practitioner of Naturalism--which consists of writing about sex and violence in the lower classes in order to reveal what I gather were supposed to be shattering truths about the bleak aspects of modern industrial urban life.  To that end, Sister Carrie tells the story of a pretty small town girl who uses her feminine wiles to sleep her way from the factories and saloons of Chicago to the New York stage.  Along the way, the tavern owning married man who stole to fund their escape to Chicago, kills himself after being abandoned by Carrie and ending up in Bowery flophouses.  Meanwhile, An American Tragedy tells the story, based on a sensational true crime, of a young man who is working his way towards the American dream and refuses to let a pregnant former girlfriend stand in the way of his chance for romance with a wealthy woman.  He takes the slattern out in a boat & clobbers her, but is tried and executed for the crime.

It is an open secret that even critics who admire Dreiser, consider him to be a horrible writer technically.   American Tragedy has been called "the worst-written great novel in the world" and the otherwise loathsome Garrison Keillor has an amusing column about how bad he finds Sister Carrie on rereading it.  His books have all the literary grace of the phone book.

Thus, his reputation rests solely on the agreement of Left wing critics with his hatred of American capitalism.  Well, 100 years on, I think we can safely say that the American system has served us pretty well and the Sister Carrie's of the world are not simply insignificant but, worse for a writer, uninteresting.


Grade: (F)