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Walking in treacle
on 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.