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Dreiser has crafted an immmense, complex novel based on the life of Clyde Griffiths, a man who commmitted a famous murder out of desperation in 1906. Born of a poor Mid-western Salvation Army family, Griffiths becomes romantically involved with a woman of his own class, only to fall in love with a socialite just beyond his grasp. A series of miscalculations evolves and Griffiths finds himself lost in his own web of tragedy and panic.
Occurring mostly in the resort of Big Moose Lake, N.Y. during the hey-day of Adirondacks, the mood and characters are all too believable and Dreiser paints a romantically painful picture of a man who cannot escape his roots and destiny.
Don't be beset by the voluminous writing. The structure, narration and characterization is perfect. Dreiser truly has created the perfect All American novel. If you can pace your reading to prevent getting ahead of yourself, you will notice the careful style Dreiser has created that turns a neat full circle by the end.
Made famous by the film, "A Place In The Sun" with Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor.
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on 7 October 2009
This is a very interesting book in terms of the depth of description that Dreiser builds into, and around his characters. You gain much from what decisions the characters make, but also how they implement these, and how the society of that time and the setting defines and confines their actions and finally judges their morality. I think part of the beauty of this book is that you know that the characters have major flaws, that you can see where the narrative will eventually lead, but the descriptive language and the depth of feeling is very enriching. Despite the fact that you know where the path will finally lead, you can still feel satisfied by the journey.

If you enjoy a beautifully written novel, though profoundly sad and melancholy, then you will not be disappointed - this is not an easy reader for a Sunday afternoon... With a title like this it is not going to be a laugh a minute, but that is an understatement, it is not so much the despair but the possibility of hope snuffed out that lingers and haunts.

Unsurprisingly I was recommended this book by a Ukrainian friend while in Rostov. It is very much of the vein of Eastern European and especially Russian classical literature, but set in beginning of the last century USA, hence the title!
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on 14 April 2013
For me this was a sad book of innocence which finally gave way to avarice greed and murder. Thoroughly absorbing and sometimes very irritating and childish characters. American literature at its finest.
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on 3 December 2015
SPOILER ALERT

American Tragedy is recognized as a masterpiece, the author’s finest work. Neither 1000 five star nor 5000 one star reviews on Amazon would alter that. High school students and literature majors read it, study it, analyse it. Assignments are set and papers written – discuss, describe, compare and contrast. Critics are criticized and commentators commented on. But is it now today a good read?

Dreiser dissects the American Dream, its power and pull on a weak man, Clyde Griffiths, ultimately channelling him to the electric chair. I knew this much before I started. It was still a fantastic read.

Clyde has stepped off the stage of Greek tragedy. We are compelled to understand him despite the terrible deed he commits, awful indeed in the eyes of his God as well as his fellow men. I felt an almost unbearable sadness in the fate of Roberta, as her stars lead her to the lake’s dark waters. Dreiser moves from Roberta to Clyde and back again, as they dance inexpertly to their doom. The girl’s touching innocence as to her lover’s true intentions is so movingly written. I know it is a long book – for these times – but the detail tells you of every heartbeat, every breath. So powerful.

Stories such as these go back a long, long way. And then when I finished I thought of a recent best seller – Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Like Clyde and Roberta, Nick and Amy have a fraught relationship, their problems also the private consequence of economic dislocation and broken dreams; an elaborate murder is plotted, a trial is conducted in the court of public opinion, too. Even in style the story shifts from Nick to Amy and back again.

Gillian Flynn though plays this for sensation – the elaborate plot matters more than the psychology of the planner. Neither Amy nor Nick elicit any feelings of sympathy in the reader. It’s the OMG approach to fiction. A twist at the end.

Gillian Flynn is an accomplished author – like Dreiser she began as a journalist, too. I don’t believe that popular fiction and serious literature are walled off from one another. I figure she must have read American Tragedy – what did she make of it? Did it influence her?
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on 10 August 2001
Clyde Griffiths certainly has been led into temptation by his creator Theodore Dreiser: here he is, only an inch away from all he has ever wanted (money, beauty, status) and he thinks he can get it by paying the price of killing his former girlfriend. Dreiser, being a moralist, does not let him get away with it. On death row Clyde for the first time in his life makes a moral decision and perhaps reclaims his soul but loses his life. Neither could his victim, Roberta, resist the temptation of doing the wrong thing in order to get what she wants. Sex outside marriage does not seem much of an issue to us but this is turn of the century America and she herself is convinced that it is sinful. She falls victim to Clyde's seduction because she sees him as someone who can lift her out of her deprived existence on a fungous farm into a better life. It is true that she is also sentimentally in love with him. Up until the end Clyde feels that those who have not been tempted as he was should not judge him. He grew up repelled by the shabbiness of his home and confused by the failure of his parents (who are street preachers) to achieve any tangible success in life. He rejects their bible messages but, due to his lack of education and social isolation, has nothing to replace them with. When he does earn some money he wastes it on an exploitative girlfriend. Years later we see him in a minor position in his rich uncle's factory. He meets Roberta, who works for him and has a clandestine affair with her. And then it happens: he catches the fancy of a very rich society girl who brings him into the wealthy set, makes him presents, gives him money, plans a future with him. Roberta, by now pregnant and threatening a scandal, is an obstacle. I have long wondered why Clyde is presented not just as a criminal with a deprived childhood but also as a flawed human being. It is easy to scoff at the things he longs for but who among us is really free from the same longings? It must be because he has no resistance: at every point he gives in to temptation: he runs away after an accident and never finds out that no charges were pressed against him. He misspends his money and lies about it. He grasps the opportunity of pushing Roberta into a sexual relationship although he knows he should not...
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VINE VOICEon 21 August 2010
This is the story of a bright, restless youth, the son of drably cautious missionary parents, who wants to escape from his rather shabby and depressing life. Although Dreiser is criticising the American Dream, he manages (as he does in Sister Carrie too I think) to make the world of work seem rather enticing. - Clyde moves from a drug store to work as a bell hop and is eventually offered a promising opening in his rich uncle's collar factory. The novel thus offers a fascinating picture of different sections of early c.20 American society. To say more would give too much away, but one of the most effective aspects of this very long novel is the unsettling way it makes the reader understand, if not share, the experiences and impulses of the flawed protagonist. Clyde is selfish and superficial, but I found myself getting very caught up with his desperate desires - whether for a girl, a job or a possession - and his equally desperate desire to escape from certain situations. Dreiser isn't a great stylist - but he's a terrific storyteller.
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VINE VOICEon 18 November 2009
This is the journey of Clyde Griffiths from adolescence to the electric chair only a few years later. The son of an itinerant preacher, he dreams the American Dream, tries to live it but sees it turn into an American Tragedy.

At each step his attempts to 'better' himself appear to succeed. They bring the fruits of the dream tantalisingly within his grasp only for events to steal them away. His first, albeit modest, step is a proper job as a bell-boy with a proper salary, tips, a passport to the adult world and his first obsession with the fickle, aloof floosy Hortense. His dream ends in a smashed-up Packard and he faces the world alone.

The second part of the book covers his attempt to make use of the one social lever at his disposal. His rich uncle owns a thriving collar factory and he is granted newly-bourgeois status as a junior manager. There follows a tragic love triangle involving Clyde, seamstress Roberta and socialite Sondra. It all ends in tears as the title suggests and you will know if you've seen the film.

This book is massively too long. The Signet edition is 856 pages of densely packed small print. Mr Dreiser has a soporific style. For the vast quantities of ink devoted to Clyde's thoughts, speech and actions I wouldn't have cared less if he had been knocked down by a train.

The description of the class system at the start of the 20th Century in the USA was surprising, especially as this is often seen as a primarily UK issue. His use of the counterbalence between classes and the change in attitudes depending on ones social status was interesting and incongruously politically left-wing. Yet reading this was like walking through treacle.

This is not a masterpiece. It is ridiculously over-long and requires drastic editing. Ponderous and repetitive. Buy it if you have an iron will and bags of patience.
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on 31 July 2015
Item as described, fast delivery.
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on 29 July 2010
It's not awful. But the characters are unsympathetic, the writing pretty ordinary, and Dreiser hammers home his warped view of people.
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on 4 December 2010
I'd heard some good lines from this play, but I'm sorry I got it as I don't like depressing stories with ignorant people in them. I had no idea about the story before I bought it. Not to my taste - actors may like it.
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