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Sister Carrie

carrie I’ve been plodding along with this book for a while, having it on my tablet and basically not reading it but when I was stuck in some waiting room or other. As of late I read a bit more in order to finish it off.

The story is one of a small town girl who comes to Chicago for a “more exciting” life. She quickly decides that the average life of a girl like herself as a shop clerk perhaps is not for her, and takes up with a dandy who houses her and clothes her.

She is enamored of the good life and soon grows tired of Drouet, the man she lives with, and meets a richer man, George Hurstwood, a saloon manager who is a step up from Drouet. He quickly becomes taken with Carrie and sets out to seduce her and make her his mistress. He never informs her of his own status as a married man with two nearly grown children.

She plays for Hurstwood all the while keeping Drouet in the dark, until she discovers Hurstwood’s duplicity. She refuses to see him again. Hurstwood succumbs to temptation, pilfering the office safe, and escaping from his marriage and takes a still unaware Carrie with him to New York.

They do okay financially for a while, but Hurstwood cannot secure a position as good as he had in Chicago, and soon is unemployed and living off savings. Carrie who has had a brief taste of acting in an amateur play, goes off to find work. Because of her beauty and some natural talent she does well, well enough to realize she wants to be read of Hurstwood who has given up on finding a job. While Carrie was fine with living off him, she finds the alternative distasteful.

Soon she moves in with a fellow actress, leaving Hurstwood alone and sliding further into extreme poverty.

The tale continues as Drouet reappears, having moved up in the sales business and on into New York. He seeks Carrie who had walked out on him without a word (mislead by Hurstwood), but she is uninterested in resuming their affair. She is getting rich and moving up in the world. Hurstwood comes to the theatre one night and secures a bit of money from her to help survive.

Drouet disappears, still enjoying his life with varied women, committed to none. Hurstwood finally commits suicide. Carrie becomes fairly wealthy but finds that buying clothes and jewelry get boring after a while, and she has little trust of men. The book ends with her alone and lonely.

There is a haphazardness to all that befalls these three. Nobody chooses where they end up very much. Circumstances seem to lead them there, and chance could have easily sent them on a different path. It is real and probably much different from the usual novels published at that time. I’m sure there were those who thought it should be banned for its blaše attitude toward illicit sexual matters.

Basically I didn’t care for it. Dreiser has no interest in the characters it seems to me other than as the manikins upon which he drapes his story. They have no history, and very little in the way of interior discernment. We only know that Carrie wanted a more “interesting” life. We know she likes pretty things. We know less of Hurstwood and Dr0uet, they seem almost caricatures of cads, rather than flesh and blood humans.

I can appreciate that Dreiser tells the story without moralistic overtones, but there is nothing that drives the reader to care about any of the characters. They are cardboard cut-outs, but not meant to convey any moral to the story or even sage advice about life. The whole work reeks of that feeling that “is this all there is” to life in general. It seems hardly worth the bother.

I also found Dreiser’s prose uneven and choppy, hard to read, and not really flowing. That may have been his intent. I don’t know any of his other works, if there are any. It is a fine book to pass the time, but really it’s not going to teach you much about the human condition and it’s thoroughly depressing most of the time. I don’t want to be any of these people, nor would I enjoy meeting any of them.


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