I chose Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Not only because I’ve been meaning to read it for years, particularly after finishing Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, but also because it’s delightfully slim.
Written in 1919, Winesburg, Ohio is a cycle of short stories all about a small Midwestern town at the turn of the twentieth century. More particularly, about the people who live there, especially the ones who somehow live on the periphery. Anderson’s dedication reads:
To the memory of my mother, Emma Smith Anderson, whose keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath the surface of lives, this book is dedicated.
“To see beneath the surface of lives.” That’s precisely what this book allows the reader to do.
We see tales of wasted lives, of tragedy, of sexual awakenings, of striving for meaning and never finding it. We watch people being unable to articulate what they need, and the unspoken knowledge that even if these people could articulate their desires, they probably wouldn’t be fulfilled.
I’ve been trying and trying to think of something to say about this book other than that it affected me deeply. And by that I mean made me really depressed. There’s a bleakness to these stories. Stylistically, Winesburg has its flourishes here and there, but for the most part it’s natural, simple, and intensely focused–you can see the influence Anderson had on writers who came after him, such as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Updike. There’s a humanity and a realism to each piece that makes you want to cringe. At least, that was my reaction to many of the stories.
There’s a voyeuristic feel to these tales. You’re peeping in the windows of this town, prying off tight lids and seeing what’s kept inside. It’s bittersweet and complicated and you come away feeling as though you’ve seen and heard things you shouldn’t. Hence the cringing. The cringing is aided by how well small-town life is nailed, the good and the bad. Mostly bad, since you’re with characters who live on the edges of everything.
Winesburg, Ohio. If you want some meaty but depressing small-town stories, you should give it a look. Uplifting it is not, but everything about it feels very real. You could also have a look at the post I wrote about Main Street by Sinclair Lewis–though Anderson’s work doesn’t have the same satire or humor to it. I found myself making comparisons between the two as I read.
So we’re now midway through August. Four months remain in 2015. Let’s do a Challenge Progress Check-In:
I…have a lot left to read.
Welp. Might be time to really buckle down. Put the nose to the grindstone. Get down to business.