Book Review: Winesburg, Ohio

Enough with the silly title!  I’m an older, wiser man.  Also, I’m going to tag all of the reviews previously written and all to be written so that everyone can find them if they want.  You know, assuming people read them and all.

Winesburg, Ohio

by Sherwood Anderson

One thing positive I can say about the book, is that it improves upon review.  I know this because after my initial read-through I hated it, and now I don’t.  So there you have it.  There are a lot of flaws to be sure, flaws which proved altogether too glaring at first.  But once you get past them there is a surprising depth to the book.  A depth which is still growing on me, to mix metaphors, or a depth into which I am sinking if you demand consistency.   Also, William Faulkner loved Winesburg, Ohio apparently, and William Faulkner is the proverbial shiznitt.

Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of loosely-connected short stories, sometimes very short, which follow the various citizens of, well, Winesburg, Ohio.  It was first published in 1919 to wide acclaim. Anderson never built upon this success, and it remains his only major work.  It itself, however, was hugely influential, with such luminaries as Faulkner and Hemingway acknowledging its effect on them.  It also marked a shift in America’s literary center away from New England to the Midwest and South.  And with such a pedigree, I fully expected to enjoy the book much more than I did.

The stories are unabashedly sentimental, sometimes absurdly so.  (WHINESburg, o-CRY-o! says my inner prepubescent.)  The prose are stilted, awkward, far too florid at times and then oddly matter-of-fact.  If for some writers it is a bad habit of telling readers instead of showing them, for Anderson it is a matter of course.  Words themselves are not Anderson’s strength, to say the least, and these things added together created in me a definite distaste for the book.

But my initial reaction was too strong, as my reactions often are.  The book has its strengths, which I noticed after reading through it a second time.  Anderson has a gift for densely layered metaphor.  They are to my taste a little too explicitly stated (you never lose the sense that Anderson is always holding your hand as a reader).  But he builds upon them consistently throughout the book, and once I accepted that he was always going to be blunt, I saw that the images were actually interesting, often quite insightful.  Mother, Nobody Knows, The Strength of God, and Loneliness are highlights, and the opening story The Book of the Grotesque provides what has become for me (to my surprise and, possibly, annoyance) an instrumental definition for short fiction.

Grade: C+

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