Friday, February 19, 2010

Review of the Day: The Studs Lonigan Trilogy

James Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy is justly lauded as a milestone in American literature, a monument to a new "naturalist" style. But monuments can be boring, even if they are important.

The trilogy has not aged well. The slang the characters use, their clothes, even some of their concerns, are anachronisms now that require a great deal of "willing suspension" to appreciate the spot on description of the rough world of second generation, Irish Catholic toughs in Chicago in the 1920s. This is definitely not the glittery 1920s of Fitzgerald or Dorothy Parker!

The final book of the trilogy, Judgment Day, is the longest of the three and the most accessible. Unlike the first two volumes, which concern mostly what is inside Lonigan's head, there is a lot of plot and action in this one.

Judgment Day takes a compelling look at the Great Depression, focusing on the middle class characters and what they lose because of the depression. Because these people have jobs, own their own businesses, invest in real estate, speculate on the stock market, they seem more familiar and relevant than Dust Bowl dirt farmers (The Grapes of Wrath), labor agitators (The USA Trilogy), or other soup line characters from books and movies about the Great Depression.

Except for compulsive "list" readers, skipping the first two volumes and only reading Judgment Day may be the way to go. It stands alone as the most worthwhile of the three.


I read Studs Lonigan a couple of years ago. I am only posting my review now because I am updating my Modern Library Top 100 post to include my comments about the books I read.

(If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


  1. I've never been able to get interested in the Studs Lonigan books, even though I've had several English professors recommend them over the years. I agree - the writing just hasn't aged well. I think you should be congratulated for getting through them!

  2. Joy -- I definitely count Sl as one of the heavier slogs on the Modern Library list.

  3. ACK! I am not looking forward to this one at all!!!

  4. SocrMom -- It's definitely not one of my favorites from the list. But at least it counts as THREE if you are counting all 121 book. Cold comfort, I realize.

  5. I'd like to try the whole trilogy, but if it's as much of a slog as you say, I'd bail and read Judgement Day.


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