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"Sister Carrie" by Theodore Dreiser

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Buddha teaches that the suffering we experience in life comes from desire. "Sister Carrie" expresses and reinforces this truth with such singleness of purpose that it becomes ponderous, a drag. This book holds its place in the American canon because it broke shocking new ground of realism in portraying the callous disregard with which some men treat impressionable young women. The book also casts its unblinking eye on our material culture and its concomitant status-seeking.
But principally and without question, Dreiser gives us the emptiness of our daily urges, the self-defeating nature of vanity, and pages and pages of glittering emptiness. The long, slow decay of Hurstwood, the man who forces Carrie to join him when he leaves Chicago on the lam, takes up the lion's share of the book's second half and grinds the reader under its ever-burgeoning weight. There is something unrealistic and difficult to accept about Hurstwood's undoing.

Dreiser is unblinking and pioneering, but also plodding and didactic. It reveals a great deal about the time it represents and the audience it addresses, but it seems clear to me that there are more pleasant and efficient ways of learning about these things.
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