Sherwood Anderson, 1919
A composite novel whose stories play out in the fictional small town of Winesburg. Although there exists a real life Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson’s Winesburg is modeled off his childhood home of Clyde, Ohio. Uncommon for his time and genre, Anderson did a bit of world-building, releasing a map of his made up town in the book’s first edition.
My copy is a cheap Signet Classic. I’ve had it for fifteen years and it falls apart a little more every time I read it. The first time I read it I wanted to steal it. Not the story, or the setting, but the style, the directness of language, the absolute lack of plot. I never write stories with a main character that I follow around like a curious puppy. I want population, human capital, plots that join and crash and splinter. All penned in third-person omniscient. Not that I’m special, but if I am ever were, I’d want it to be known that this book was the first that made me eager to write.
The book’s timelessness may be credited to the book’s unconventional structure, or the rough romance of pre-industrial Americana. When you read a synopsis it sounds common, boring. It sounds like Edith Wharton and John Cheever. But from the first page it reads different, strange and clever. Reminiscent of Mark Twain or Tom Robbins. Naturalist, Modernist, New Realism; all have been used to diagnose this book. All current, the right parts are all there, but the most apt conceptualizing of it I’ve seen is Expressionist. Like those ghastly color works of Jazz Berlin, the book is a parading of small people writ large. Slightly wild, slightly tense, slightly repulsive, and very neurotic. Like the small town Midwest of today, nearly every character is drowning in loneliness and isolation. It is a ghost story with no ghosts. The people haunt themselves all on their own.
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