I read this book for my Back to Classics Challenge of 2019. It falls under the category of Classic from a place you’ve lived. This book takes place in a small town in Minnesota in the early 20th century. I read the first few chapters and I immediately knew I would hate it. However, it was not because it is a bad book, but because it epitomizes all the things I came to dislike in Minnesota when I lived there.
How do I describe Minnesota? There is a reputation small towns garner of being filled with gossipers and being a close-knit community with an intense dislike for “the other” (or anyone who hasn’t lived in the town for at least fifty years). The only way I can describe Minnesota is that it is one giant small town, only ten times worse. There is a term in Minnesota called “Minnesota nice.” And it is the exact opposite of nice. It refers to a person who is nice to your face, but then goes behind your back and is cruel and vindictive. People rarely say what they mean in Minnesota, instead expecting you to pick up on hints. I hate that about MN. Saying that, there are so many things to love about the state. Beautiful lakes and parks. An interesting history. One of the best library systems in the US are Hennepin County Libraries in the Twin Cities (you can see my priority).
But one of the main reasons I struggled with reading this book is that it seemed too real to what Minnesota is still like, even a century later. Still, I will try to give an unbiased review.
Synopsis: The classic novel documents the life of Carol, a young woman who marries a doctor and goes to live in the tiny town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, only to find herself in conflict with the townspeople.
This book, according the Wikipedia, is a satire, which amazes me, since Sinclair Lewis captures the reality of Minnesota people so well it seems he is less mocking and more observing reality. He captures perfectly the ideals, cruelties, and life of the people in Gopher Prairie and though I was not fond of any of the characters, I could not help but be entranced with the realistic hilarity of the scenes filling this book.
Carol is an extreme idealist, believing she can bring the “backward” people of Gopher Prairie into the future, only to realize her idealism will be her own undoing. I wasn’t a fan of her character, but I could understand where she was coming from. She was close-minded herself towards the beliefs and values of these people, although she would often comment about the other townspeople being the ones not willing to try new things.
The book itself is extremely long, around five hundred pages depending on the edition. And it feels like it. Lewis will spend pages and pages discussing Carol and her new friends throwing a small play performance in town, or the arguments between Carol and her husband Kennicott (can’t remember his first name). It is an extremely tedious book to read, and I would not fault anyone for lacking patience to finish this book.
But I rather enjoyed it, even if the characters are a bit negatively portrayed (which seems typical in satires) and the themes few and far between. Most of the book just seems to look at the weaknesses common in small towns and large cities. People in small towns (at least in Minnesota) are often unfriendly and close-minded, whereas people in cities look down on others and believe themselves as being open-minded, when they aren’t. I can understand why, when this book came out, it upset many people in small towns.
This book won’t be ending up on my favorite books of all time, but it was an interesting read, especially if you’ve lived in Minnesota for any amount of time.
Have you heard of this book or read it? What are some negative stereotypes from the area you come from? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,