Pondering the Pulitzer

1919 Winner: Booth Tarkington, “The Magnificant Ambersons” (summary)

Big sigh.  Two books down.  Are you still with me?

Booth Tarkington really did live up to the grandiose nature I envisioned of him.  I imagine he was the sort that used up most of the oxygen, and possibly all of the limelight, in the room.  I feel as though you probably couldn’t look away from him—a more understated, much more prim Truman Capote, if you will.

All that being lathered about, and I still must say I had quite a trial getting through this book.  I couldn’t commit to it.  I’m unsure why.  I really can’t tell you why it was so difficult just to get through this book.  I was excited to start it.  Tarkington creates beautiful sentences—just one after another.  So why couldn’t I focus?  Why couldn’t I settle.

True, there was elongated passages of descriptive setting.  These weren’t as frustrating as others I’ve read from authors I won’t name here.  There was a definite purpose in storytelling with these passages.  This is the saga of a family—this is the unfolding of a family through time.  Yes, we must know how things have changed.  (Isn’t this just echoing one of my numbed life advice phrases?: To know who you are, you have to know where you’ve been.  Oh…I use that in all kinds of situations.)

I mean, I guess I have to remember (as the back of the book reminds me), this is the dawn of the motor vehicle.  Everything in the world is different for Tarkington and his contemporaries.  Everything is changing and needs to be explored.  OK, I suppose that’s important to consider.

Does this, however, help to make it timeless?  I mean, I don’t know that it can automatically discount it, right?  Things are always changing.  Maybe we don’t take the time to be all inspired and touched by the moving world around us.  Which is interesting, because Tarkington writes about how the faster the world moves, the less time anybody has for anything.  What do you think he would say about our current day iWorld moving at the speed of—oh, I don’t know, what’s faster than light?

How about accessible?  Is The Magnificent Ambersons accessible?  Well, let’s put it this way: it’s more accessible than Henry James.  (And if YOU know who Henry James is—and I’d imagine you would if you’re reading this blog—I’ll just bet you’re chuckling.)

Maybe this is just me speaking coming off of His Family, but something about Tarkington’s prose feels out of reach.  Is this a comment on the implied significance of the Amberson’s affluence?  It could work like that.  It works that it’s different, as far as the continuance of the Pulitzer Prize for Novel (less than thirty years until it’s for Fiction).

Really, even while I haven’t seen any of the film on tv movie adaptations, I can see this making a good flick.  Tarkington’s book is almost like the American Jane Austen (that’s not sacrilege to say, right?), and Austen’s writing makes terrific movies.

But let me tell you, Tarkington’s dialogue is much more relateable and hearable than most of Austen’s—even while she does have brilliant lines.  Is this because I’m American.  Probably.  But, ya know, this is the Pulitzer, which is preferably given to an American writer.  So there’s that.

If you want to talk to me about my Pulitzer reading (or anything really), you can contact me at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com or twitter ( @l_hallman )

Happy reading, chickens!

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