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Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930, the first American novelist to be so honored. He was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the son of a doctor. After an extremely unhappy childhood, he went to Yale but left before graduation to work in Upton Sinclair's socialist colony at Helicon Hall in Englewood, New Jersey. Unable to make a living as a freelance writer, he returned to Yale and graduated in 1908. In 1914 he published his first novel, Our Mr. Wrenn: The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man. But it was not until his sixth novel, Main Street (1920), that he won recognition as an important American novelist, the first to challenge the myth of the happy quintessentially American small town. His major works are Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), which won a Pulitzer Prize that Lewis refused to accept, Elmer Gantry (1927), Dodsworth (1929), and It Can't Happen Here (1935), which he also wrote as a play in 1936. Married and divorced twice, the second time to pioneering newspaperwoman Dorothy Thompson, Lewis was a prolific writer, publishing dozens of books and innumerable articles throughout his career. He died alone in Rome on January 10, 1951, and his ashes were returned to Sauk Centre, the "Main Street" he'd rejected so many decades before but which in death took him back as its own.
Lewis's tale of middle-class frustration, stress and success in the 1920s is brought to life by the L.A. Theatre Works' 1987 full cast production featuring more than 30 actors, including Ed Asner (as Babbitt), Judge Reinhold, Ted Danson, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hunt and John Lithgow. With a deep and raspy voice and with great projection, Asner delivers a believable and amusing performance that securely anchors the entire production. Whether bullying his family or spouting politics with his friends at the club, Asner keeps the consistency of the self-aggrandizing character solid throughout. Jazz music segues well between scenes, though without any additional production sound beyond voices, it can at times feel out of place. While the full cast proves enjoyable in their individual parts, many take turns narrating the exposition throughout the production. At times, this is executed well, but sometimes it feels as if the director is just trying to give everyone more voice time. (Sept.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
First published in 1922, Babbitt is an authentic modern American classic, a biting satire of middle-American values that retains much of its poignancy today. George F. Babbitt, Lewis's outwardly successful but inwardly unhappy real estate salesman, still seems real. His story makes engrossing reading and is ideal for audio listening. With Babbitt himself at the center of every scene, it is impossible for listeners plagued by frequent interruptions to lose track of the story line. Narrator Wolfram Kandinsky has a voice that many listeners may find grating; however, his reading here conveys an appropriate ironic tone that is especially apt when he reads Babbitt's own lines. Recommended for general fiction collections. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"[It is] by its hardness, its efficiency, its compactness that Mr. Lewis's work excels."--Virginia Woolf