2010: 77. Winesburg, Ohio

“The writer, an old man with a white mustache, had some difficulty getting into bed.”

First Lines of “The Book of the Grotesque”

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

      Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of loosely connected stories all set in the turn of the century small town of Winesburg, Ohio.  Although this is a midwestern story, it reminds me of the swath of “decayed small town New England” tales that were published in the same period - the works of E.A. Arlington, Spoon River Anthology, even (at the most extreme), Lovecraft.*  They are all stories about the strange crabbed emotional lives of outcasts and wierdos in the town - including people who seem normal, but are as emotionally tormented as anyone else.  Flowing through all the stories is the young writer George Willard, who seems above the angst, and bound to get out of town.

      I don’t know, I found this to be such a strange book.  The overwrought emotional anguish of the characters left me with the same impression that Lawrence does - maybe people were once like this, but they seem really alien to me, at least.  It’s not that people aren’t miserable today - lots are, obviously, but they don’t seem to be so  passionately and dramatically unhappy in the way they are in these books. Or maybe we just don’t write like this any more.  I don’t want to slam Anderson - there are great passages here, but the book is so overwrought that it left me cold.  When you compare Winesburg, Ohio, to his “The Egg” which is wry and tender, I think I prefer “The Egg.”

*The art editor must have thought so as well, since the cover of my copy is a picture of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, which is a Maine painting.  

Categories:  Re-Read, Fiction, Modern Library Top 100

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017