Friday, December 25, 2009

goodreads book review: the magnificent ambersons, booth tarkington

The Magnificent Ambersons (Modern Library Classics) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
the magnificent ambersons makes you think about how humans value things, and other people, and reputation, for what reason, and in what proportion. it is a book that i want to talk to other people about because i keep rolling it over in my mind, the choices and observations tarkington made in some cases baffle me, and i'm still not sure what to think, of it, the world, or myself.

had i not read penrod just prior to reading the magnificent ambersons i'm not sure i would have liked it as much as i did. tarkington had already softened me when it came to whims and importunate desires of boys so i was somewhat prepared for the dark and evil epitome of boys who never grow up: the monster at the heart of this book, george amberson minafer. part of me still chafes at the injustices of the world revealed in this novel, reminding me that somebody who is only beautiful on his outside can wreak such harm and destruction on the people that love him. the relationship between georgie and his mother isabel amberson is the most destructive in the book, and the pattern continues when he takes up with lucy morgan, the daughter of eugene, isabel's true love whom she spurned when he lost sight, for a brief moment, of propriety. i revolted against these relationships until finally i came to this passage:

"But though she was a mistress of her own ways and no slave to any lamp save that of her own conscience, she had a weakness: she had fallen in love with George Amberson Minafer at first sight, and no matter how she disciplined herself, she had never been able to climb out. The thing had happened to her; that was all. [..:] But what was fatal to Lucy was that this having happened to her, she could not change it. No matter what she discovered in George's nature she was unable to take away what she had given him; and though she could think differently about him, she could not feel differently about him, for she was one of those too faithful victims of glamour. When she managed to keep the picture of George away from her mind's eye, she did well enough; but when she let him become visible, she could not choose but love what she disdained."

and for all that i still hate georgie, these words helped me understand, and identify with lucy, and at least took me down from my moral highground for a moment to remind me that our rational minds are not always in control of our hearts, and sometimes we love people who aren't good to us, or for us, but it is nigh impossible to revoke our love once we give it.

all of these entanglements play out in turn-of-the-century american society where the established ways of business were changing, and people began calling horseless carriages automobiles, and one way of life began to die out, while another began. this backdrop is almost another character in the novel, and tarkington's interest in the culture that was and his horror at what it was becoming is vivid, and real, and easily identifiable for contemporary readers, in this, our own moment of change. i am now interested in reading the rest of the growth trilogy, and alice adams.

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