Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Main Street and Sinclair Lewis

I grew up in rural Kansas, where I lived most days at the local library experiencing the world in pages of books. By the time I was fifteen, I had worked through children’s, horse novels, mythology, and arrived at the classics shelf. There I met Carol and Will Kennicott living in Gopher Prairie through the pen of Sinclair Lewis and his novel Main Street. An ingĂ©nue at reality, I missed a lot of the meaning in that first read of the novel, but I fell in love with Lewis’s descriptions, and I did recognize a small town life I knew.

Like Carol Kennicott, I wanted to lasso the world, pull it in and tame it. When I fell in love with my future husband, a farm boy who wanted to study engineering, I thought I could broaden his interests. One of our first dates, we planned a picnic at a county lake. I donned a wide brimmed Scarlett O’Hara-inspired hat, packed a gourmet basket lunch, bundled a kite for flying and poems for sharing. The hat flopped in the wind; my hungry boyfriend longed for simple fried chicken and was oblivious to the beauty of iambic pentameter. When we assembled the kite, it took one swoosh across the sky before diving to the lake bottom along with my hopes of a perfectly picturesque outing. Carol Kennicott would have understood my disappointment!
A marriage, a stint in St. Louis, a settling in a small Missouri town brought me back to living more of Carol’s life. I felt strangled with the lack of change, the ordinariness of my life. I had my causes, served on the library board, the museum board, worked church and civic groups, and taught school. I tried to motivate friends, to no avail, to study ballroom dancing, attend poetry readings, and see avant-garde movies. Eventually, I changed my pace and just fell into step with the community.

This autumn, one of my book club’s selections was Main Street, and I fell in love with Lewis, his characters, and the prairie all over again. It was the third reading for me, and the novel was just as fresh and contemporary as it was the first time I read it. I felt the texture of the fabrics, smelled the wood smoke, chilled in my bones from the snowy cold; I experienced the frustration and angst of characters, all thanks to Lewis’s finely honed details. Now age made me see the characters with a different slant, more understanding and tolerance for small town life.


Carla Gade said...

Isn't it wonderful to be pulled into the world of fiction to add a dose of extra-ordinary to the ordinary. Even if the story is about small town life, it gives you appreciation for the characters and lifestyle. We can go to so many places with books!

This is my first visit to your blog and I enjoy the way you write!

Bookie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.