This book has been the longest resident of my bookshelf, gathering dust and begging to be read. This is Theodore Dreiser’s 930-page realist epic of 1925. Except for Sister Carrie assigned in AP English, I have not read Dreiser. My suspicion is that Dreiser’s books are now considered too long for high-school students, too earnest for college literature classes, and too odd for many common readers. The morale reminds me of The Great Gatsby, also a portrait of life in the Roaring Twenties, but Dreiser’s is more realist. The novel is based on an incident that occurred in upstate New York in 1906, when a factory worker named Chester Gillette murdered a young woman on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks. The woman, Grace Brown, had been pregnant with Gillette’s child. In a well-publicized trial, Gillette was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. His conviction was upheld on appeal. After Governor Charles Hughes refused to grant a stay of execution, Gillette was put to death on March 31, 1908.
I devoured 92 pages this morning during breakfast. Dreiser introduces his main character, Clyde Griffth, with a modest pace. He is determined by forces beyond his control: primarily environmental and hereditary. Born in the slum, of weak parents, romanticizes the idea of wealth and success, associates it with beautiful women, and longs for a life of pleasure and wealth. The scenes of the book whet his appetite—until he is struck down by a misfortune as a result of what he desires. Interesting enough to keep me engaged.