Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)

If nothing else Winesburg is an interesting experiment in form. There are two things that link together the twenty-four stories: George Willard and the small town of WInesburg. George lives in the main hotel which his family owns but he is also a newspaperman. If you read a paper from back in the 1910s you might notice that WInesburg is kind of like those publications. It's similar in that the reader learns bits and pieces of everyday life and maybe a bit of gossip about the townspeople, what Anderson does that's interesting though, is delve deep into each character's psyche. It's not George as reporter telling us these things, it's like the town itself if gleaning information from it's residents. And Winesburg itself is a major player in the book. It's got the get up and zip typical of early 20th century towns but at it's core there seems to be a depressing pall hanging over everyone.
This enthusiasm on the outside and deep psychological distress on the inside is reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis book but this seems much darker. So that's what I liked about Winesburg, there's a lot that I wasn't so keen on. The flow of the stories didn't make this book easy to read. Generally we get a picture of George growing up in relation to whoever's story is being told, but there are times when we jump around many years. It's hard to get a really good feel for George, though, because each individual story doesn't really have a beginning, middle and end. They're more just character sketches, really awesome and penetrating character sketches, but not especially fun to read twenty-four in a row. Publishers were hesistant to move forward with Winesburg because, well, it's super depressing. The only way to be happy in life is to get the heck out of town. That's what George does at the end, but there's no feeling of connection to him because we don't really know the guy.

Rating 5/10: Not sure this should be a story collection. Maybe Anderson needed an editor to tell him to connect the stories better, that'd be my advice. But that doesn't change the fact that there's some extraordinary writing in here and I'd be eager to read something else by Anderson.

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