4.5 / 5
"The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office-buildings."
Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything a man could wish. But when a personal crisis forces the middle-aged real estate agent to reexamine his life, Babbitt mounts a rebellion that jeopardizes everything he values. Widely considered Sinclair Lewis' greatest novel, this satire of the American social landscape created a sensation upon its 1922 publication. Babbitt's name became an instant and enduring synonym for middle-class complacency, and his story remains an ever-relevant tale of an individual caught in the machinery of modern life.
This book reminded me in many ways of Updike's Rabbit, Run - and I don't think that's just because the titles kind of rhyme. They both revolve around an indecisive protagonist who is striving desperately to figure out happiness in a postmodern world. I think I liked this one better, though, perhaps because the main character - despite his many flaws - was much more likable than Updike's.
It's taken me a pretty long time to write the review of this book. I am unsure why. I really loved it; it is truly a classic and has so much to say about America at the time. But...I wasn't quite sure what to SAY about it. I'm still kind of at a loss for words, except for: I highly recommend it!
I did find it interesting that the book was written & took place in the 1920s. Oddly, I had a difficult time keeping that in mind, for two major reasons:
One, I couldn't equate it in time with other books I'd read recently (The Other Typist, The Dressmaker), even though they were written about relatively the same time period. This, I believe, was due to Lewis writing about an entirely new & different place: suburbia! And this book examined in depth the fragility of the modern American dream, which the other two books did not do. The Other Typist, for instance, centered much more around Prohibition than did Babbit, although Babbit's life did revolve somewhat around the illegality of alcohol. Strangely, though, the author made it feel like this was just a fact of life, and that people were going to drink anyway. Perhaps it is how society feels these days about marijuana - nobody really seems to care who uses it, but it is still against the law in many places.
Two, I kept pausing to think about how so much didn't change for entire decades in the early twentieth century -- this book just as well could have taken place in 1950, rather than 1920. Or in any of the intervening years! I often found myself thinking it was written in the post-WWII era. And when I'd catch myself doing that, I would go off on a tangent thinking about how things didn't change for so many years. But when they did, they did so exponentially. Nowadays, if a protagonist uses a flip cell phone instead of a smartphone, the book is already dated for the reader. How strange is that?!
I know this isn't speaking much to the actual quality or content of the book, but I can't really say much about the story itself - there was one, but it was pretty much the vehicle for an examination of poor George Babbit's life. His experiences as he became roped into being a family man at a young age, found himself in the rat race without even really noticing, first trying to embrace the situation, then rebelling quite drastically, then trying once again to find his place. A very interesting study of a very distinct slice of life: the America of "yesteryear." And a man who could be truly be anyone.
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