Monday, September 07, 2009

Review - Babbitt

I'm still a bit torn on this book.

The writing was good. The main character, Babbitt, had considerable depth and we really got into his head. The environment/setting/etc was well presented and really gave me a good feel for 1920s middle America. The ending wrapped up the various elements into a nice little package while still giving you something to think about.

And yet, I left this novel feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

There are a few ways to take this novel. From a high level, it's a great sociological exploration into the American upper-middle-class family of the 1920s. It does a great job of showing work life and family life...of exploring the various issues a worker and a family may face...from labor unions to college to prohibition to the overly peppy youth.

From a plot standpoint, it's more difficult to evaluate. We follow this man Babbitt through his business days and his time with family and friends. We really get into his head and get a feel for the large variety of things that leave him discontented. And yet through many of the chapters, there doesn't seem to be much "plot" at all other than just randomly following this guy around.

There are, backing out to the overall novel, elements of a story arc that takes Babbitt's discontent and allows it to rise and fall and thus driving him to some action. But the elements of action felt sparse within the context of the novel. When the story arc finally reached its first climax, we got a few chapters of self destructive behavior and it looked as though our hero was in for a fall that would spur him either to disaster or into some radical action. Unfortunately, neither came to pass and the climax petered out.

I think part of the problem too for me is that I read this in a moment when I was already personally discontented with some elements in my life (work, school...) and so I found myself relating too closely to the overly depressive side of Babbitt. So as he spiraled downward, I felt my own mind reeling, though grateful that I could personally avoid his type of behavior. And yet, once the conclusion of his actions wrapped up, it felt very anti-climactic for me and I felt like nothing was truly resolved the way it could be resolved in real life. Thus, it was as though I got wrapped up in the emotions of a self-destructive mid-life crisis without feeling any resolution to pull me out of the disparaging pit the novel dug. Fortunately, things aren't that bleak for me and I'll quickly dig myself out.

If you're interested in the 1920s...or middle america...or the emotions and turmoil of a midlife crisis...then by all means, give this book a read. There are moments of humor and, if pieced together, can make an engaging narrative. Otherwise, the novel itself is rather boring and I personally feel that it can largely be passed by.

2.5 stars out of 5

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