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Summer of Classics 2014

I set a fairly unambitious goal for Summer of Classics this year - nothing but James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy (Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgment Day), which totals just under a thousand pages. Though I liked Lonigan, it fell just short of classic. The first book was promising, the second book weak (it seemed like a third-rate, city-instead-of-small-town, Irish-instead-of-Anglo version of Winesburg, Ohio), and the third book the strongest. Further thoughts of mine on the books are here at Goodreads.

Given my slow reading pace, I figured Studs Lonigan would take me the entire summer to read. But to my surprise, I finished the trilogy in early August, and turned to another Chicago novel to finish up the summer.

Windy McPherson's Son is Sherwood Anderson's first novel, and is very much an apprentice work for the author. The first section, when the teenaged Sam McPherson shows the ambition and drive that will power his later business career, is very well done, with wonderful depictions of small-town Iowa life and Sam's quest to endure and overcome his feckless father. (More than a few echoes of Huckleberry Finn there.) The writing is fresh, the characters and place well-drawn. But when Sam moves on to the big city of Chicago, the narrative becomes more predictable, even approaching soap-operatic melodrama at times. Then, in the third section, Sam abandons his career at its lofty peak and departs for the road, on a vaguely-conceived quest for Truth, and the episodic narrative strains credulity, with Anderson even throwing in an unlikely happy ending to close things out. With this book, Anderson was clearly working toward greater things. Some of the strongest elements of Winesburg are already on display in this debut novel, but unfortunately those elements are only intermittent flashes, especially after Sam leaves Iowa.

So the verdict is: one near-classic, and one non-classic from an author who would later write an undeniable classic. 

September 7, 2014 in Books | Permalink

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