I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1918. The Magnificent Ambersons chronicles the changing fortunes of three generations of an American dynasty. The protagonist of Booth Tarkington's great historical drama is George Amberson Minafer, the spoiled and arrogant grandson of the founder of the family's magnificence. Eclipsed by a new breed of developers, financiers, and manufacturers, this pampered scion begins his gradual descent from the midwestern aristocracy to the working class.
While reading The Magnificent Ambersons, I couldn’t help but compare Tarkington’s work to that of his fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut. I know, completely unfair, as they are of different generations. But I think they share a certain desire to demonstrate the necessity for kindness in an industrial world.
Interestingly, the other writer that I kept thinking of was Robertson Davies. Seeing the world from the view point of George Amberson Minifer was a little like looking at Canada through the eyes of Boy Staunton of Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. I could just envision Boy Staunton, as the rich young ruler in Deptford (as seen through the eyes of Dunstan Ramsey) and he blurred with Georgie from time to time. Especially since both Boy Staunton and Georgie Minafer were very concerned with appearances, etiquette, and properness. The convolutedness of the family relationships also reminded me strongly of Davies (Francis Cornish’s relationship to his aunt in What’s Bred in the Bone, for example).
But enough comparing Booth Tarkington to other authors! I did appreciate his clear-sightedness with regards to human behaviour and our remarkable capacity to misunderstand what is motivating other people. How strong is our tendency to attribute our own reasons to the actions of another! And how completely inaccurate that can be—it’s a wonder that there aren’t more serious differences among family and friends than already occur. Ah, family relationships—the refusal to talk about money is a deadly sin, laid out here in dissection.
Recommended for those who are overly concerned about the opinions of others.