I would give this one 3.5 stars (out of five). It was at times very frustrating, quite boring, and then, at the end, very, very moving.
Clyde Griffiths has to be one of the most dislikable characters in all of American literature. Sure, one can relate to the young Clyde not wanting to be part of his parents’ street mission, wanting a job, then wanting a better job, but once he has a pretty decent job as a bellboy he quickly becomes droll and boring until an accident sends him fleeing Kansas City. He soon ends up working a low middle management job in his rich uncle’s shirt and collar factory, and that’s when he really becomes a shallow, self-serving little … Well, not a good person.
This incredibly long book could easily have been cut by several hundred pages without losing anything, but perhaps gaining in momentum. Dreiser really dragged out some of the descriptions, repeating things over and over sometimes. Also, a good deal of the action was told to us passively instead of in an active voice that let the reader experience it.
That said, the end of the book, after the trial, I found to be very moving and insightful. Sure, it was filled with Christian overtones that may turn away some readers, but when you consider the time period it’s to be expected. However, that soul-searching that Clyde, and especially his mother, has to go through at that time really redeemed the book in my opinion.
The audiobook is over 34 hours long. Whether you listen or read, plan to devote a good chunk of time to this one. I found it worthwhile, and it’s one of those stories I suspect will nag at my memory for quite a while now that I’ve finished it.