PPRL: Alice Adams, by Booth Tarkington (winner, 1922)

DISCLAIMER: Posting this abridged review (minus discussion questions) through the fog of a cold. Not the best place from which to think or write, but there are only so many podcasts I can listen to, comatose on the bed, before my brain turns to jelly. Worst part of being sick isn't the cough, the aches, or the chills, it's watching life steamroll past as usual while you fall behind. 


What I found wonderful about Alice Adams is how at home its protagonist--the frivolous, self-absorbed, but mostly well-meaning Alice--would be in today's society. But that's also what made me most uncomfortable. I related a little too well to Alice, some ninety-odd years after she was conceived. Twenty-two, shiftless, vain, and entirely too dependent on others, Alice is a cautionary tale, albeit one with a happy ending. Her warning: don't wait for life to happen to you. Make it happen for yourself. Have a plan. Have a back up plan. (Hint: neither should require the participation and/or goodwill of men.)

It's a compact story, almost parable-esque, outfitted with the requisite rise and fall of a heroine you'll love to hate, but ultimately will have to love. When Alice, having finally grasped that gumption and self-reliance will take her further than good looks, dusts herself off and steps bravely into a future of her own design, you'll want to cheer. That is, if you're not too busy trying to do the same thing yourself.

A taste of Tarkington:

He was conscious of the city as of some great creature resting fitfully in the dark outside his windows. It lay all round about, in the damp cover of its night cloud of smoke, and tried to keep quiet for a few hours after midnight, but was too powerful a growing thing ever to lie altogether still. Even while it strove to sleep it muttered with digestions of the day before, and these already merged with rumblings of the morrow.

She was a large, fair girl, with a kindness of eye somewhat withheld by an expression of fastidiousness; at first sight of her it was clear that she would never in her life do anything "incorrect," or wear anything "incorrect." But her correctness was of the finer sort, and had no air of being studied or achieved; conduct would never offer her a problem to be settled from a book of rules, for the rules were so deep within her that she was unconscious of them.