Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Magnificent Ambersons

Why do I have to hunt through so much garbage to find greatness? One of the main themes of the novel, that all great things are quickly forgotten as the world moves on is well demonstrated by the fact that so few people seem to be aware of the existence of this book. I loved it for several reasons:
  • It is the best telling of the change from carriage to automobile that I have ever heard.
  • It explains why modern cities have run-down mansions in awkward places with a vividness and poignancy that makes me stop whenever I see one in Pittsburgh (and Pittsburgh has a lot of them!)
  • It is one of those novels that makes clear that human nature doesn't change. People had all the same failings in 1880 that they do now.
  • The writing is so elegant, and so classy. My favorite phrase in the whole book: "Frustrated, he uttered a significant monosyllable." That's the classiest way to drop the f-bomb I've ever heard! And probably the only way to do it in 1922.
  • It is one of those rare novels where the protagonist is a total and complete jerk -- which makes the ending very difficult to guess, and I have to say I didn't see it coming, not at all.
  • It was a complicated statement about love that will keep me chewing for a long, long time.
Tarkington's writing is so vivid, that I am hesitant to see the Orson Welles movie, for I'm afraid it might interfere with the visions the novel created for me. The reader of the audiobook was excellent, too. I am certainly curious to read other Tarkington novels. The Pulitzer prize this earned is well deserved!

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