First Sentence: Major Amberson had "made a fortune" in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.
Well, the Ambersons are indeed magnificent.
Here is what little I know about this book: It was written by Booth Tarkington and published in 1918. It won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It's way better than I expected it to be (since in my previous experience, some of these "great books" tend to be pretty much unreadable). It's over 400 pages long in large print.
Basically the book is about George Amberson Minafer: son of Isabel Amberson, heir to his grandfather's magnificent fortune, and complete jackass, living somewhere in the middle of the United States at the turn of the last century. Because love works in the same mysterious ways that God supposedly does, George and Lucy Morgan fall in love. Lucy Morgan is the daughter of an automobile inventor, whereas George is hopelessly old-fashioned. There are a lot of other various shenanigans going on, not the least of which involve George's maiden aunt and bachelor uncle, who aren't actually together, but which logic dictates must totally be doing each other. The book says absolutely nothing about that, I just drew my own conclusions.
Don't get me wrong, though. There's a lot at work here besides the love story. Things about progress, and family, and money, and forgiveness. If you can get past the sort of stamps of the time ("darkies" and dependent women, for example), the book is pretty awesome. The style, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes scornful, but usually amusing, helps with navigating some of the passages where you really start to ponder the author's prejudices.
I've never actually read a book much like this before, or at least none that really dealt with this time period in this way. In a way it's sort of like reverse science fiction, because the book actually reads a lot like a science fiction novel examining the effect of a new technology on a society. In this case, however, the examination is of something that's already taken place.
It's also worth noting that a lot of our current environmental issues got their start around the same time as cars did, so although Lucy Morgan and her father are some of the book's more likeable characters, you kind of want to tell them to "git a hoss!" right along with George. (Not all of the dialogue is written like that, by the way, so don't worry.)
Anyway, read the book, riffraff!
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The stairway was draughty: the steps were narrow and uncomfortable; no older person would have remained in such a place. Moreover, these two young people were strangers to each other; neither had said anything in which the other had discovered the slightest intrinsic interest; there had not arisen between them the beginnings of congeniality, or even of friendliness—but stairways near ballrooms have more to answer for than have moonlit lakes and mountain sunsets. Some day the laws of glamour must be discovered, because they are so important that the world would be wiser now if Sir Isaac Newton had been hit on the head, not by an apple, but by a young lady.
—there are some thoughts to which one closes the mind.
People no longer knew their neighbours as a matter of course; one lived for years next door to strangers—that sharpest of all the changes since the old days—and a friend would lose sight of a friend for a year, and not know it. (I find it really interesting seeing this sentiment expressed in a book from 1918, when everyone is always implying that this whole "alone in a crowd" thing is a recent development. Just further proof that nothing ever really changes. -M.R.)
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)