Book info

Alice Adams (2008)

Alice Adams (2008)
Rating
3.61 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
1434100243 (ISBN13: 9781434100245)
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English
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publisher
boomer books
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Alice Adams (2008)
Alice Adams (2008)

About book: cross-posted at http://themocentricuniverse.blogspot....i wished after reading alice adams that my younger self had discovered it, ideally the version of me who was besotted with pride & prejudice and identified with the impudent, winsome miss elizabeth bennet. i doubt the young maureen would have identified with alice adams at first but it's hard not to see the parallels between elizabeth and alice: both have deep affection for their fathers, and somewhat difficult relationships with their simpering, preening mothers. both have siblings that embarrass them and make their lives difficult. and both novels feature cringe-worthy scenes of social distress. both girls are pretty; both girls are relatively poor in relation to the class of people with whom they associate. we all know how elizabeth's story ends; my heart sang each time i read the ending of pride & prejudice for many years. it wasn't just happiness for elizabeth that i was feeling -- the novel assured the young maureen that if you stayed true to yourself you would be rewarded in time. a reading of alice adams at just that point might have tamped my optimism in that quarter somewhat and better prepared me for my future. alice adams lives in an age between me and elizabeth bennet. i live in a culture that aspires to meritocracy where miss bennet's was severely stratified and class rules were firmly established. alice adams lives in an era that shows a transition point between these two societies. the novel is set after the first world war and before the great depression. it is an era of change, where horse and wagon is being replaced by the early automobile, where local robber barons have firmly established their wealth and watched those with lesser acumen assist them, struggle along, or be subsumed. alice adams is the daughter of a lesser businessman in the employ of the "great J.A. Lamb" the local leading light. (i would love to discuss this character with somebody who's read this novel. he plays a small but pivotal role and i am fascinated by what he represents here... is lamb benevolent? do i doubt him because of my modern sensibility?) alice, feted in her first bloom, socialized with the "better" part of society but now, at twenty-three, she is already losing her social status, being cut from acquaintance, partly because her family never got as rich as the others, partly because she has not made an advantageous marriage, she is perceived as grasping to those who have it all, and alice is only just beginning to perceive she has never had enough. still, she wrangles an invitation to one last ball, and there she meets a young man, arthur russell, apparently affianced to the giver of the ball, his cousin mildred palmer, in the time-tested fashion of bringing two families and their fortunes even closer together. but mr. russell isn't as sure of his engagement as the rest of society is, and he begins to call on miss adams, sitting outside her house on the porch. and as we know, two attractive young people sitting under the stars and talking stuff and nonsense can't help but be romantical.*i won't relate any more of the plot turns in alice adams -- there is certainly more to the novel that readers should discover for themselves. she does not face a tragic end, even if she does not get the happily ever after that cinderbennet gets. rather, alice adams gets to become a modern girl, one who has to face up to her own future and her own survival. she has overcome her own pride & prejudice and comes to find that the world might still have brightness to it despite all the things she lacks. the novel ends in a way that solidifies its importance. this book is a tonic to peel away romantic illusions and face a little reality.a few words as to why i gave this novel only four stars: true to the other tarkington books i've read, there is a peppering of racism here. i would suggest that in the case of this novel, it's plays better than it does in the unfortunate penrod, which not only reflected the racism of the age and failed to contribute to the plot of the novel, but also needlessly wedged in racism wherever possible -- feel free to check out that review if you require more detail: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... here at least, we find alice's brother walter (who could very well be an older version of penrod) loves jazz, and as a consequence of that, and his penchant for shooting craps, socializes with black people and respects them even if he uses racially provocative epithets to describe them. the other people who are horrified by these associations are just plain racist in that smug condescending way, that was unchallenged in that era. still, it bears remembering that tarking probably did mean for his readers to respect walter's character even if he is perhaps more sympathetic to modern eyes, and i can't even get started on the other gross portrayals of serving staff: as usual i think tarkington has done both his writing and humanity a disservice by indulging in slur.beyond the racism is *my disinterest in the romance between alice and russell. i didn't like her talk when she was wooing and he just seemed like a pretty moron. every conversation they had i thought, how can either of them imagine wanting to spend another moment together, let alone another hour having a stupid conversation like this? this romance didn't have the interest tarkington imbued into his other celebrated novel, the magnificent ambersons. given the necessity of this connection to the book, i wish it had sparked more. still, i think this is a very instructive novel, and one i will definitely prescribe as a romantic palliative in future. :)

Americans like to pretend that we are egalitarian - that we don't care about class systems and social power structures. We want to act like we've evolved above all of that and that these things are an Old World affectation that we've outgrown. But books like this 1922 Pulitzer Prize winner show us how much we do care (or have cared) about social standing, essentially putting the lie to all of our posturing.Alice Adams is a young woman living in the Midwest during the period between the wars. Industry is booming, but the Adams family is decidedly middle class. Her father works as a mid-level manager for a wealthy local businessman, Mr. Lamb, and is afraid to strike out on his own, even though he has an idea for a product that could make them all wealthy.However, Alice has ambitions to be so much more than middle class. She tries to attend the nicest parties, wheedles her parents for nicer clothes and puts on airs as if she is "in" with all of the best people. At one of these events she meets Arthur Russell, a wealthy young man who is newly back in town (presumably after service in WWI) and ready to settle down. He takes an interest in Alice and the two of them soon begin spending a good deal of time together. But Alice must figure out a way to keep Arthur from figuring out that she is not as wealthy as she pretends because she believes that this will spell the end of their relationship and doom any prospects of marriage.Complicating the plot are Alice's mother, who in her attempts to further Alice's prospect puts pressure on her father to leave the mid-level position he is stuck in and venture out on his own and Alice's dissolute brother, Walter, whose actions eventually lead to a family crisis in the third act.This novel is crisply written and moves along at a good pace - it is faster and shows greater focus than Tarkington's more well-known "The Magnificent Ambersons." Nonetheless, I can't say that I enjoyed it more. Largely this is because I found it difficult to feel sympathy for Alice or any of the other major characters, especially at the beginning. I felt that their blind spots were so apparent from the start that tragedy was inevitable. And it is. This is not a "comedy of manners," it is more a "tragedy of manners." If Dickens had been American and less satirically inclined, he might have written a sober novel like this.Over time, the characters demonstrate more sides of their personalities, making the reading experience richer than I first anticipated it would be. Alice is not quite as weak and shallow as our first perception of her and even the antagonist, the wealthy businessman Mr. Lamb, shows more nuance late in the novel and becomes a tad more sympathetic. The final scene even offers a small ray of hope, as Alice moves past her illusions and desires for social climbing to a place of potential empowerment through self-improvement.And in that final moment, this becomes a quintessentially American tale. It's not that we don't care about class and social standing in the US, it's just that we want to believe anyone can move up to a higher social level with enough determination, moxie and hard work. And that is the note that this book finally leaves us on.
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Reviews
Andy
A little dated and racially insensitive, but an interesting bit of social history. The industrial boom that followed WWI brought economic growth but left some behind, especially those whose skills did not match the needs of the growth industries. In an odd way, a feminist book, in that our heroine's sad fate may be redeeemed through economic independence -- freeing her from the tyrrany of courtship rituals where economic status undermines her. There wasn't a single major character whom I found appealing, save perhaps old Mr Lamb who makes little more than a cameo. The disastrous dinner party scene toward the end was nicely theatrical, but the details were sparse and the writing there seemed hurried. How much funnier Dickens would have made it.
Don
Years ago I went through a Booth Tarkington phase and read The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams, both of which won Pulitzer Prizes, and a couple of the Penrod books as well. I recently watched the 1930's version of Alice Adams with Kathryn Hepburn and didn't remember the ending being the same. So I downloaded the audio book from the library.Don't listen to the audio! Tarkington is a Midwestern writer (Indianapolis) and the story takes place in a Midwestern town and yet the reader gave the characters southern accents. "Alice" sounded like a simpering idiot and her family more like Erskin's Tobacco Road (a must read, by the way!). Granted I just watched Hepburn play the role almost perfectly to the way it was written...The movie was pretty spot on until the end when the Hollywood passion for happy endings took over. A product of its time, the movie and book are both dated for prose and the deplorable portrayal of African Americans. But the book is worth reading (but not listening to). The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.
Kelly
My colleague, Stephanie Bower, who is writing (or wrote?) a book on the rise of Louisville in the late 1800s and early 1900s gave me this book. She told me she could not read it because she knew it wouldn't end well. Boy - you can tell almost immediately things will not turn out well for Alice. Alice has upper class pretentions but lives in a lower middle class family. Her main goal is to marry well, and that is never a good thing in an early 1900s book. It's so darn annoying to see her blunder and lie her way through her romance. It's also depressing that she has so few options. Alice is kind hearted and good spirited and you wish her well even though she makes so many mistakes. Who can blame her? The world was not her oyster.I read this book voraciously. It was fun and frustrating at the same time. As an aside: Like most books from this era, it's racist, sexist, classist etc. Obviously jarring to read works like this if you are not used to it.
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