Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sinclair Lewis: An American Life

1961, possibly first edition, from McGraw-Hill
Mark Schorer
Sinclair Lewis: An American Life
Original price unknown, purchase price $8.95
Worn hardcover with stains

Schorer spent nine years researching and writing this 800+-page book, and he clearly remained interested in Lewis, since some of the editions I own of Lewis novels have Schorer afterwords.  But I have to ask, why?  Why meticulously recount, for instance, Lewis's travel itineraries if you're just going to sum up with "He was one of the worst writers in modern American literature, but without his writing one cannot imagine modern American literature"?  I would venture that Lewis had the same effect on Schorer as he did on so many people, a mixture of repulsion and fascination.

As my reviews show, I don't think Lewis was a great writer, but he was sometimes a good one, and certainly not one of the worst.  I said in my last (for Kingsblood Royal), "He was a very flawed man and a somewhat flawed writer, but I'm glad I own so many of his books."  My image of him as flawed comes from this book, so I don't totally disagree with Schorer.  Lewis was a lonely, awkward boy who grew up to be a lonely, awkward man.  He slowly drank himself to death and destroyed almost all his relationships, including with his sons.  And Schorer does point out the flaws in Lewis's writing, most hilariously on the weakest novels and short stories, the ones I haven't read.  There's not much positive here, but then there wasn't much positive in Lewis's life, prizes and acclaim aside.

But nine years, really?  Was it worth it?  Well, Wikipedia lists this as Schorer's most famous work, so I suppose it was.  Richard R. Lingeman's Sinclair Lewis: Rebel From Main Street (2002), which I've read once and don't own, presents a heroic Lewis who is almost unrecognizable compared to Schorer's Lewis.  But then, Lingeman was writing four long decades later, when Lewis and his world were much more distant, as compared to Schorer who started this biography soon after Lewis died and was able to speak with his ex-wives and other people Lewis knew.

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