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Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Magnificent AmbersonsThe Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fine example of turn-of-the-last century soap opera. Clear language, often painfully direct and uncomplicated, it reads like a grand, traditional family soap opera, complete with rich beginnings and ending with a slow, complete decline.

I had a distinct impression that I was reading a take on the American gentry, meant to aggrandize and admire wealth at all costs. There are a few interesting takes, but the one thing that was driven home was how insufferable and unlikable George was in most of the grand sweep of his life.

It's just a mark of how good a writer Tarkington is that we eventually get SOME redemption from him, but honestly? The final failure of the family seems quite justified. It doesn't matter if it's moral or common sense failings, intelligence or the heart. He was commonplace, spoiled, and idiotic.

The rest was all a pretty enjoyable soap opera, honestly. I'd place it up there with Downton Abbey for lively characters and feel.

As for why such a novel that OUGHT to have stood the test of time... I think there's plenty of reasons why it slipped of the pedestal. The casual racism is bad enough, but it's the commonplace plots and thin characters, however well-written, that made it fall. It IS good, even sharp, but frankly, everyone and their little fat dogs have repeated this success endlessly since then.

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