Context: Listened to this courtesy of librivox.org while walking to and from work through the bluebells in Dell’s Wood.
Long ago, when my mother-in-law and her sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said any non-fiction Pulitzer prize winning books. They mistook non-fiction for fiction and I ended up with, amongst others, two books from the Rabbit series by John Updike. While I admire Updike for his amazingly captivating writing, the guy has a disturbing penchant for sex which would have Freud salivating. Not my thing. But my accidental and brief foray into the world of Rabbit gave me enough background to know that when I got into Babbitt, Updike had ripped it off entirely.
Okay, okay all you Updike fans can take it easy. I know the guy was a genius and won Pulitzers all over the place. But Lewis won the Nobel Prize right… the Nobel!
There are just too many coincidences between the books for Updike not to have borrowed heavily from the themes Lewis raises. Babbitt is about your average, aging, mid-West USAnian guy. A businessman, a family man, a nowhere man. He’s got it all and he’s got absolutely nothing. He is on top of the world and then in crisis. He’s yearning for change and hoping that nothing changes. He’s everyman.
And through all these very human themes, Lewis is absolutely scathing about mid-war US culture. He just can’t satirise it enough. I loved it. He was ahead of his time. He really was. Just as well really. If he’d tried all that about twenty years later, during the era of the Red Terror, he’d have been locked up.
So, for those of you who’ve read some of the Rabbit series but never heard of Sinclair Lewis, you have some self-education to undergo. Go out and get yourselves a copy of this and read about where it all started.
THE towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.
Arms about each other’s shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room and faced the swooping family.
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