Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington

This novel is set at the beginning of the twentieth century, a time when the automobile and electricity were radically transforming the country. As the benefits of the new technologies enhance the lives of most people, the Amberson family refuses to accept change and spirals down to unimportance. The dawn of a new era as viewed through the eyes of the old guard, a fascinating juxtaposition.

I was surprised how compelling of a read this was considering the main character is completely unlikeable. George Amberson is a third generation rich kid, as pompus and spoiled as the day is long. He behaves so badly the townspeople talk openly of wishing he gets what is coming to him, and the author had me wishing the same thing. When George finally gets his comeuppance, we’ve seen him destroy so many other lives it is hard to feel either sympathy or satisfaction. Tarkington doesn’t tie up all the loose ends and the conclusion is bittersweet at best. In a lot of ways, this makes the story much more honest than many I’ve read.

First Sentence:
Major Amberson had “made a fortune” in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.

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