Friday, November 13, 2009

Review: Alice Adams

Grounded in outmoded attitudes about class and distractingly highlighted by outmoded attitudes about race, Alice Adams has not aged well.

In his 1922 Pulitzer winner, Booth Tarkington presents a heroine striving to climb the short social ladder of her Midwestern city using only her charms and well-rehearsed mannerisms. Watching Alice struggle is painful. She has self-awareness sufficient to know she is doing things wrong, but lacks the tools to do them right. And it never seems that the game is worth the candle.

Finally, after watching Alice dither for most of the book, circumstances force her to face reality and make some difficult but intelligent decisions. The book ends on a gloriously hopeful note, which is the most redeeming feature of the story.


  1. Very interesting. The only Tarkington I have read is The Magnificent Ambersons. I don't remember if it had "antiquated" notions of race or not. I do remember that it was very prescient about the rise of automobile culture in the US and what it does to the landscape.

  2. Interesting! I'm kicking myself since I saw a perfect copy of this at a second hand bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Wish I had read your review before.

  3. I have not read this, but I tried to read The Magnificent Ambersons a couple of years ago and couldn't get through it, so I'll probably steer clear of him.

  4. I read The Magnificent Ambersons when I was reading the Modern Library list of Top 100 novels of the 20th Century. That one didn't really send me, and neither did this one.

    I usually don't ding an author for not aging well -- finding merit in what the author tried to accomplish in his own time, even if it does not translate perfectly to our time -- but Tarkington really feels out of date.


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