Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Has anybody here read my good friend Martin?

long since finished: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

Have I really not talked about good ol' Martin Arrowsmith? I finished him not that long ago, but it's starting to feel like another world now that we are in Chicago, and out of the exquisite suburban torture that was life in the GRapids. (Oh, sigh. Grand Rapids is NOT that bad, and I should stop implying to the blogosphere that it is. It was just my situation there that was that bad.)

But Martin understands! Martin Arrowsmith had his own exquisite tortures in life as he tried to make his way, not the least of which was Wheatsylvania. The scenes in the provincial prairie town of Wheatsylvania, where his wife Leora's family lives, are painfully funny! Like, to the point that the book would be worth reading just for the Wheatsylvania scenes. (But luckily there's plenty of other good stuff, too.)

I had to return my copy to the library so I can't quote you some of the Wheatsylvania dinner table goodness, but suffice it to say everyone just has to be all up in Martin's business about everything, and not because he's, you know, doing anything wrong per se, but because he's, well, Not From Around There, and he is grilled and analyzed and criticized and advised and questioned about everything and nothing. And apart from the invasiveness, they talk about so many things that Just. Don't. Matter. Except to them.

But then Martin and Leora are off to even more adventures in other cities, and the book takes you to unexpected places, much as their lives take them to unexpected places. I think that is in fact the best thing about the book, because it reminds you of what life is and what it does. Also, I did not see the ending coming at all; an unexpected ending is always fun.

As you may know, I love reading these Pulitzer winners partly because of what the fiction Pulitzer is: an award for an American novel. This means so much more than being a novel published in the U.S. by an author who happens to be from the U.S. The works that win this prize reflect and comment on what American life is. Not in a jingoistic, hyped-up way, but in a true way. That is what I like so much about the Pulitzers, how they are an award for Truth, even in the fiction and poetry categories. And Arrowsmith exemplifies that so well.

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