I am continually awed by the power of classics, a genre so often scoffed by those who think classics have no importance or relevance in our contemporary lives.
How wrong they are.
Our September pick for the Cheshire Cats Classics Club was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, not to be confused by Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle. Main Street is the story of Carol Kennicott, a city girl who dreams of making over a small town. She has high ideals, lofty thoughts, and big hopes.
She marries Will Kennicott, a small town doctor and they move to the Midwest town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota (based on Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Center). When Carol first see Gopher Prairie, she is horrified- it’s so small town, ugly, and provincial. She immediately hates her new home.
Main Street is essentially the story of Carol and her foibles, misdoings, and failed attempts at making Gopher Prairie more modern and less offensive, in her opinion. But more than that, it is the story of one young woman and her attempts at fitting in, a task she never accomplishes. In her efforts to modernize and bring culture to Gopher Prairie, Carol offends, bulldozes, and in general doesn’t understand the ways of the town.
There is a lot to Main Street, many characters and stories, all of which are rich and full. You know these people, because these people are in your town, your city, your village. Yes, Lewis does stereotype and characterize, but stereotypes so often have truth behind them.
Lewis writes in a contemporary voice, witty, and satirical in a way that is meant to hit you at your core. Which in Gopher Prairie are you? Are you Vida? The Red Swed? Mrs. Bogart? Lewis attacks the “perfect” small town lifestyle that people told still hold dear. The ideal that everything is SO much better in suburbia, nothing bad ever happens, and everyone just loves one another. Oh, how wrong we are to still believe this falsity. Lewis cleverly attacks gender roles, government and bureaucracy, religion, friendship, marriage, and the bonds that tie us together.
Lewis made me laugh, made me rage, made me think, and came pretty darn close to making me cry, when several main characters die (small spoiler alert!).
I haven’t been touched, angered, or thought so much by a book in a while. Highly recommend.
Rating: 5 stars (and you know how stingy I am with my 5 stars!)
See you in the stacks,