#CBR7 Review #222: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Whew. I have spent the evening blogging about books. I did not mean to let myself get this far behind in my reviews, but Christmas vacation happened, and travelling made it much easier to read than to blog. And travelling makes me nervous about having a lack of things to read—so I loaded up my Nook with borrowed library books and sat by a charger at the airport so I would not be bored or bookless (which is kind of the same thing, ya know?). And it was in the delayed flight, delayed arrival at the gate, and delayed baggage arrival (yesterday was a LONG DAY), that I polished off Sister Carrie.

Carrie Meeber, also known to her family as Sister Carrie, aspires to catch a big break in Chicago. She leaves the family home in Columbia City, Wisconsin for her sister’s flat in Chicago. There, a fussy baby, poverty, and a taciturn brother-in-law dampen her enthusiasm for the glamorous life she hopes to lead. Further, her poor factory job discourages her with its long hours, back-breaking work, and miserable pay. She falls into the company of Charles Drouet and becomes a sort of companion/mistress to him. Then she meets George Hurstwood, a successful upper-to-middle-class manager and discovers the power of infatuation. Her rise to the stage is mirrored by Hurstwood’s fall, a double-examination of the power of the American dream in everyday life.

This book was engaging, compelling, and a fast read. I thought that Dreiser’s social criticism was spot-on. I will say, though, his depiction of women is not as nuanced as his depiction of men. I think that as far as a portrait-of-the-artist (or Kunstlerroman) is concerned, Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark is much better, particularly in its characterization of women. That said, I found this novel well worth the time, and a much faster read than the dense and slower-paced An American Tragedy.


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