Main Street

by Sinclair Lewis

I like this book. The story takes just a tiny bit of getting into before you really reach the marrow of the narrative, but it is well worth it. The only other Sinclair Lewis I have any experience with is Arrowsmith which I cared for so little that I never finished it (rare for Classic Bitch). Plot synopsis for would be readers? Main Street is the story of a college-educated city-dwelling woman in the early twentieth century, who is conscribed via willing marriage to live in small-town middle America.

Main Street grows on you. The protagonist, Carol Kennicott, has such grand hopes for and fears of Gopher Prairie—the insular village she must learn to call home. The reader may start out wondering: What's she gonna do to this place? It's only as the story progresses, and Carol's life progress within the literal and figurative confines of Gopher Prairie, that you realize the correct question to ask is: What's this place gonna do to her? This book abounds with such ironies.

Main Street is also a period piece. Set across such milestones as World War I, women's suffrage, and can't help it. Perhaps it is another layer of irony then that the story—albeit anchored to history—is also absolutely timeless! Replace the pejorative "pro-German" as the label of choice for people who don't quite fit in on Main Street, with the modern-day label "terrorist," and there you have it! I am also left with the same feeling I had after reading the last book on the list, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth: So much has changed in the relationships between men and women...but so much remains the same. (OK, I am depressed now.)

So that I don't end on a low note, I will also relate here yet another aspect of this book's timelessness. It was an unexpected joy for me to come across a part of the tale in which—fed up with stagnant Main Street—the main characters take a trip "out west" and visit none other than Monterey, California...the very town I am in as I write this!

Great literature connects us. It bridges time and place and ideology. There. Classic Bitch feels better now.

Sinclair Lewis has his finger squarely on the steady pulse of everybody, everywhere, everywhen. Have a listen...

• "It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is better off than others."
• "'People like you and me, who want to reform things, have to be particularly careful about appearances. Think how much better you can criticize conventional customs if you yourself live up to them, scrupulously. Then people can't say you're attacking them to excuse your own infractions.'
   To Carol was given a sudden great philosophical understanding, an explanation of half the cautious reforms in history. 'Yes I've heard that plea. It's a good one. It sets revolts aside to cool. It keeps strays in the flock. To word it differently: You must live up to the popular code if you believe in it; but if you don't believe in it, then you must live up to it!'"
• "'There's lots of sincere practising Christians that are real tolerant.'
   'Yes. I know. Unfortunately there are enough kindly people in the churches to keep them going.'"
• "She led him to the nursery door, pointed at the fuzzy brown head of her daughter. 'Do you see that object on the pillow? Do you know what it is? It's a bomb to blow up smugness. If you Tories were wise, you wouldn't arrest anarchists; you'd arrest all these children while they're asleep in their cribs. Think what that baby will see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see an industrial union of the whole world, she may see aeroplanes going to Mars.'"