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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Before there was Rabbit...

...there was Babbitt, a decidedly more well-off drone in the American race to keep up with one's neighbors.  When the book opens we find Babbitt a social-climbing, bored, unlikeable realtor very concerned with appearances and displaying an odd (almost homoerotic) admiration for his best friend from college.  The story drags for hundreds of pages, don't let that distract you from Lewis's skillful satire and pops of social commentary that apply, in some ways, today.

Babbitt and friends from uppercrust midwestern city Zenith frequently laud Prohibition and something to protect those less imbued with propriety and moral fiber, but complain about it as applied to themselves, as said by one of Babbitt's traveling companions on a train to a Realtors' convention: "The way it strikes me is that it's a mighty beneficial thing for the poor zob that hasn't got any will-power but for fellows like us, it's an infringement of personal liberty!"  Any "liberal" thoughts, politicians or ideas are brushed off by Babbitt and his crowd as dangerous socialism.  Way to be relevant, 'Clair.  Wish I could tell you that stuff hasn't petered off.

Examples like this demonstrate the subtle way Lewis weaves humor into a novel about personal redemption.  He steps away from his characters a little and lets them expose their own hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness.  Hang on for the big plot bomb, and you'll be rewarded with a sweeping exploration of what it means to follow society's ideals about success - notions that, not long ago, would hang over all of us.

2 comments:

  1. LifetimeReaderFebruary 28, 2011 6:15 PM

    My mother used to love this story. Definitely sounds like something to put on the TBR pile!

  2. What Book TodayMarch 1, 2011 6:56 AM

    It's great. Starts off slow but totally worth it. I'm about to read Main Street, and *my* mom told me to read Dodsworth too. Thanks for stopping by!

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