Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Winesburg, Ohio

Title: Winesburg, Ohio
Author: Sherwood Anderson
List: #24 on Modern Library Board’s Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading? Maybe.

I’m still working my way through Pillars of the Earth, but picked up this short novel as an “in-between” read. Once again, it was book I’d never heard of before, but it seemed like an easy read. And, another bonus, it was free online through Project Gutenberg, an excellent resource for books no longer protected by copyright law.

Winesburg, Ohio is an interesting novel. And when I say interesting, I mean sort of quirky and definitely not your typical read. It could be described as a series of short stories, but is probably more accurately described as a series of vignettes about the inhabitants of a small Ohio town in the era shortly before the industrial revolution. When I started reading, I didn’t think there was any connection between the different vignettes, but after a while I noticed that one character, George Willard, made a recurring appearance. George Willard is a young journalist working at the local paper who is somehow connected to most people in the town. He makes fleeting appearances in several of the stories and is featured in others. It almost seems as if he serves as the keystone of the town because several of the other characters seek him out for company or a quick conversation. At any rate, he seems to know most people of the town, and his central location at the newspaper offices makes him a witness or unknowing bystander to the troubles of some of the other inhabitants. George’s desire to leave Winesburg for the city also serves as the loose plot tying the book together.

But I feel like this description attributes more of a plot to the book than there actually is. Many of the vignettes are wholly independent from the story of George Willard and really seem quite random. They can start with a brief description of a person, then describe an occurrence in the person’s life, then, quite abruptly, end. Most of the time there is no real conclusion to the story and I often felt like I was left hanging with a sad, twisted, and unfinished tale. Although the vignettes were certainly compelling, they were also quite depressing. I am not sure that there were any happy events in the novel, just tales of woe and failed dreams, lives, and, especially, love. Consequently, it isn’t a very upbeat novel and, if you have the same reaction to the tales that I did, you will often be shaking your head in puzzlement at the conclusion of each story.

That said, it isn’t really a bad read either—it just isn’t that good. I may be missing something, but I just don’t see what is so great about this novel that it made one of the lists. And because there are so many other fantastic, moving novels out there, I don’t think there is any reason to rush out and read this one.

1 comment:

  1. You almost - almost - make me want to read this book. Or, at least the first few parts since it sounds like any of them could be stand alone.