Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm gonna bite my pillow!

Current book: Main Street
Pages read: 89-208

I'm already more than halfway through this one, and not just because I'm having a migraine-recovery day. It really is interesting and easy to read, especially when one compares it to the relative fog of Rushdie's magical realism and complex political statements. Don't get me wrong; I don't want to sound like one of the small-town shut-ins that populate the novel, but sometimes it's nice to read a few sentences in a row that actually seem to relate to one another.

So, our young and impressionable heroine has made her way through several seasons of the whirl of Gopher Prairie gaiety and is now really beginning to experience the sensation that she's not getting anywhere with her projects and plans for the town's betterment. As she makes her way through various deadly dull social occasions and the regular meetings of her stiflingly catty women's clubs, she keeps coming up with schemes and plots to do such outrageous and revolutionary things as refurbishing the town hall, building a new schoolhouse, or planting trees in municipal areas. She is, of course, handily rebuffed by her small-town compatriots, who, in turn, laugh at her enthusiasm, scrutinize her financial motives, or resent her for implying that the town is anything less than perfect. It's astonishing, actually, that she has the perseverance of spirit to keep trying. We also get to see her try to be a perfect doctor's wife, including a rather bloody scene where she helps her husband amputate a farmer's arm. (Sinclair Lewis is all about the action. He's like Michael Chrichton before his time. Ok, not really. Though could we add grey gorillas with crystal-powered lasers? Because that would be awesome.)

At some point she gets it into her head to put on a theatre show, too, and we get to see her struggle with the community theatre experience. (It's straight out of Christopher Guest, really it is.) She ends up putting on what she calls "a bad play, abominably acted," which I must say sounds terribly familiar. (I was in a summerstock production of Annie. Oh, god, the orphans, you guys. The horrible orphans.) It amuses me greatly that, while they ended up choosing an unknown and banal-sounding show for their project, the committee rejected Carol's idea of doing Shaw because it was too artistic and controversial. Shaw. Yikes. (I mean, I guess there's some socialist material in there, especially with Major Barbara, but really? Man, I'd love to let David Mamet or Harold Pinter loose in Gopher Prairie.) Anyway, her total failure at theatre was the end of the section, which also closed with a three-year entr'acte and the information that our heroine's having a baby. I can't wait for the motherhood-induced realization that she's really and truly trapped in her small-town life.

No, shockingly, I actually can't. I know this all sounds like angst and boredom, but Lewis is doing a damn fine job at painting a portrait of Middle American life. While you could argue that the plot's a little thin, it's as if he's leading us through Carol's days as a method for delineating his characters. He's showing us the people who populate her life and, by doing so, compellingly illustrating her situation. Some part of me keeps wanting to shake her and say, "Stand up to everyone and stop caring about what they think!" but I can't do it because Lewis has proven to me how impossible it would be to do such a thing. (And I'm not a forgiving reader. I was mad at Anne when she finally forgave Gilbert, after years of grudge-holding, for calling her "Carrots." The jerk.*) I hate to sing his praises all the time, but it's impressive stuff.

Also, I sort of love the socialist Swedish handyman who's courting Carol's maid. He's the only one in town who's just like, "Fuck 'em! Who cares?" (Who thinks I was one of the lunatic fringe in high school? Hands?)

*If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're either a boy or have been terribly deprived for your entire childhood. Go get Anne of Green Gables. Do it right now.

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