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[Reading] ➶ Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life By Sherwood Anderson –

Winesburg, Ohio Depicts The Strange, Secret Lives Of The Inhabitants Of A Small Town In "Hands," Wing Biddlebaum Tries To Hide The Tale Of His Banishment From A Pennsylvania Town, A Tale Represented By His Hands In "Adventure," Lonely Alice Hindman Impulsively Walks Naked Into The Night Rain Threaded Through The Stories Is The Viewpoint Of George Willard, The Young Newspaper Reporter Who, Like His Creator, Stands Witness To The Dark And Despairing Dealings Of A Community Of Isolated People

10 thoughts on “Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life

  1. says:

    zut, alors! i don't even know where to begin. i had such a complicated reaction to this book. am i the only person who didn't find this depressing?? this book is life - it is tender and gentle and melancholy and real. not everything works out according to plan here, but what ever does? that's not necessarily depressing, it's just a reality that can either be moped over and dwelled upon, or accepted and moved on from. this is the emotional truth of life - we don't understand our urges, we make bad decisions, we work hard to no great end and no one notices, but sherwood anderson noticed. this book is us - amplified. life gets all of us; it is the struggle to be understood, the struggle to not get lost in the crowd - to make a noise that someone hears. these characters are believed, cared for, delicately rendered by anderson to really get to the core of human shortcomings. i apologize in advance - this might become my most oddly formatted "book review" ever, just because i can't stop free-associating with the way i am feeling from this damn book that i didn't even like from the outset, but as the stories progressed, something in me kept brewing and growing and mutating, and now it is an unstoppable force in my heart-region.

    the plot is deceptively simple: it is a town full of people unable to express themselves properly clawing and clutching at the one person they feel has the power of expression and who will release them somehow from their mute longings and joys and limitations. and then in turn releasing him into the the wider world with all of their rage and suffering and love inside of him. my god, the pressure!

    i had to give it five stars because of how it made me feel at the end. the last sentence made me say (out loud, unfortunately) "oh my god, ridiculous", because it made the whole book perfect, despite several stories that i thought were only okay. but that's the trouble with short stories, even if they are part of a cycle like this - there are going to be some thin ones. but the ones that are good here are superfuckinggood. at the end of it all, it is like after reading dubliners or nine stories when this giant Dome of Connection just sort of drops over the whole thing, encapsulating it and preserving it as one exploration of the same problem - in this case, the spectacular inability to communicate and that sort of inarticulate mute howling we so often feel in the presence of emotions larger than ourselves; to know what to say, but to have it come out all wrong - too brassy, too wishy washy, or aggressive or too much bravado or too passive or pompous - just wrong... and then the aftermath of self-recrimination. i mean, we are all inarticulate grotesques sometimes; mine is appearing in the form of this book review.

    it's also this wonderful noble hopelessness that gives me the same feeling watching bubble gave me (which i think is also set in ohio - i will check) or the wayward bus, or donald harington's stay more cycle, or that oingo boingo song "sweat" which as a nostalgia song i always found more compelling than "jack and diane" or "summer of 69" as far as pure (north) american nostalgia songs go:

    The cool boys bit the dust
    They couldn't take the pressure
    The cool girls got knocked up
    They only wanted to have fun
    (Where did they go?)
    They fell in love and suffered
    (Where did they go?)
    They picked up guns and hammers
    (Where did they go?)

    i mean, you can open this book pretty much anywhere, and find a beautiful phrase or a whole paragraph:

    -Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.

    -"I want to fill you with hatred and contempt so that you will be a superior being."

    -"Let's take decay. Now what is decay? It's fire. It burns up wood and other things. You never thought of that? Of course not. This sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there - they're all on fire. They're burning up. Decay you see is always going on. It don't stop. Water and paint can't stop it. If a thing is iron, then what? It rusts, you see. That's fire, too. The world is on fire. Start your pieces in the paper that way. Just say in big letters 'the world is on fire.' That will make 'em look up. They'll say you're a smart one. I don't care. I don't envy you. I just snatched that idea out of the air. I would make a newspaper hum. You've got to admit that."

    -In an odd way he stood in the shadow of the wall of life, was meant to stand in the shadow.

    -It seemed to her that the world was full of meaningless people saying words.

    i mean, if i keep going, it will be nothing but quotes and none of you will ever have to read the book. but you should. because i have already reread several stories just to try to recapture it all inside of me, and this tiny little book has as many scraps of paper shoved in it as my prousts, just for well-turned phrases that gripped my heart..

    it got me. i got it.
    makes me wanna werewolf at the moon a little...

    come to my blog!

  2. says:

    ‘Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.’

    When you stop and listen, life is a brilliant cacophony of love and pain, where we are all struggling to shed the shackles of loneliness and stand full and actualized in a society that never bothers to truly look into our hearts. Sherwood Anderson’s gorgeous Winesburg, Ohio, which beautifully blurs the line between a collection of short stories and a novel, is a testament to the loneliness in our hearts, and delivers a pessimistic, yet ultimately uplifting, account of the ways in which we can be eternally trapped in internal strife by none other than our own hands. ‘Many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg,’ Anderson writes, setting his tales within the comfortable boundaries of an idyllic small town—the type of quiet, peaceful place where everyone knows one another that are often glorified in early 20th century American literature—yet diving deep within the populations hearts to examine the depths of solitude and sorrow that exist in even the most idealized and comfortable of surroundings. This book came to me at what seemed like the exact time in which I could appreciate it to the fullest, a time when presenting the golden core of existance through montages of melancholy and sorrow would be the perfect way to take hold of my heart and lift me free of my own burdens and into literary bliss. Despite the increasing ability to interact on a global scale during which the book is set, the citizens of Winesburg find themselves trapped in a cage of internal anguish and alienation of their own design, and seek out those with the true creative capabilities to express the emotions they cannot manage to make plain, and Anderson delivers their stories of struggle and strife through his unflinching, connected short stories that culminate towards a dazzling depiction of the human condition.

    There is something very modern about this slim novel published back in 1919, yet it retains that wonderfully nostalgic feeling that come alive in me when I read the works of authors such as Steinbeck and Faulkner, a feeling as peaceful as the a warm summers day from your childhood that makes you believe your own coming-of-age tales are as epic as the words printed upon the pages of novels that stand as monuments in the history of literature. For some reason, stories set in small towns during the early 1900s really make my heart sing out to the heavens, and with Anderson conducting the orchestra, it sings out in mighty rapture. Yet, considering the introductory story, ‘The Book of the Grotesque’, Anderson preforms a magic act of near metafiction that makes his style as poignant today as when it was first written by hinting that the book to come is merely the unpublished scribblings of an aging who only wishes to watch the sunlight brighten the trees outside his bedroom window. Anderson immediately reveals his hand, yet this does not diminish the potency in his every move but simply allows the reader to better appreciate each glorious depiction of sorrowful existence.

    [I]n the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful…And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them. It was the truths that made the people grotesques….the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.
    The first story is the Genesis of the novel to come, the creation story behind the people who stumble about in futility as they attempt to connect with one another and make themselves understood, so trapped within their image of the ‘truth’ that they cannot create outside its boundaries.

    Speaking of futility, I do not posses the adequate gifts of analytical prose to sum up Anderson’s mighty message as this succinctly cutting passage from Ernest Boyd’s incredible introduction to my 1947 Modern Library Edition:
    It is essentially a literature of revolt against the great illusion of American civilization, the illusion of optimism, with all its childish evasion of harsh facts, its puerile cheerfulness, whose inevitable culmination is the school of “glad” books, which have reduced American literature to the lowest terms of sentimentality.
    Anderson exposes life in its raw form, without the opportunity to comb its hair or apply makeup, and by avoiding the convenience of administering external interference as justification for a characters shortcomings, implies that many of our defects and dilemmas are wrought by our own hands. Failure to adequately express ourselves through socially acceptable conventions is the foible that forces us into emotional isolation and existential angst, most openly diagrammed in the character of Wing Biddlebaum who’s hands and their flamboyant flailing or easy rest upon the shoulders of young boys cause him to be run out of town and spend his twilight years wandering the streets of Winesburg beset by bitter solitude ¹. There is the epic, biblical in nature as well as biblically influenced², tale of Jesse Bently attempting to assert his godliness only to be met with misunderstanding and horror by his grandchild (with the gloriously executed, tragic subplot of his daughters tearful life as her attempts to proclaim love result in an unsatisfactory, face-saving marriage of convenience); Alice Williams nude flight through the town in an effort to free herself from the promise to wait for a man that will never return to her—a promise that robs her of her golden years as she withers in loneliness—; Seth Richmonds efforts to win Helen White’s heart by proclaiming he is leaving town in hopes it will make her realize how his absence will inflict misery upon her, but then having to leave before the opportunity of love can blossom; and a whole slew of others damned by their own attempts to carve their mark into the history of Winesburg.

    The futility of the townsfolk to make their hearts heard is what gives George Willard, a teenage journalist at the local newspaper—the Eagle, and seemingly the pride-and-joy of Winesburg³, a central role within the book. George figures in a majority of the stories and, aside from the town, serves as the thread connecting each story. George is a figure of creation, a figure who can take a life and immortalize it within the words printed in the newspaper, so each member of the town is drawn to him during their lowest hour, only able to provide a clear depiction of their soul and struggles to him. Kate Swift, his former teacher (whose nude form inspires a holy revelation within the local preacher), recognizes this and her lust for him is a reflection of her desires to make whole the fractured souls that haunt society and she is drawn to him by his literary potential to do so. She tells George that in order to become a writer he will
    have to know life…It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it’s the time for living. I don’t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.
    Anderson’s novel is an exquisite expression of this sentiment, and it is only through their late-night/drunken/bitter/etc. confessions to, or interactions with, George that we can see through the veils of grotesqueries to flowering souls within.
    Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.
    Through the book’s frequent glimpses at George’s maturation, a sort of bildungsroman is erected. Carefully placed not in the forefront of the novel, as a book bent on sentimentality would have it, but subtly omnipresent and lurking in the background, Anderson is able to employ all the emotionally stimulating and memorable aspects assigned to the coming-of-age tale without letting its warm glow overpower the real message at hand. In effect, this becomes a literary coming-of-age for the reader with Winesburg as the canvas upon which the realization of the human condition is splattered. Through George we learn what hides in the human heart, and through George we grow to empathize with our fellow man. Like many others, George inevitably leaves Winesburg to pursue his dreams, and hopefully, unlike the rest, he will achieve them. The characters try in many ways to escape the mundane and stagnant town, often seeing Helen White as the way out. Even George seeks after her, winning her fancy under the pretext of understanding love so he can write about it in a novel. To the males of Winesburg, Helen and and her wealthy family represent a way out, a higher goal of sophistication and sensuality. However, most fail to win her hand, much like those who leave Winesburg fail to achieve their glory and riches. Perhaps, despite the meaningfulness of our unique coming-of-age moments, we fail to bring our lessons learned into adulthood and falter at the alter of life. We must properly express ourselves and let our creative powers grow to the heavens, not keep them locked up as does Enoch Robinson, slowly slipping into madness within the confines of his New York apartment speaking with the idealized imaginary friends that replace his friends of flesh-and-blood, foibles and blunders. Winesburg, Ohio is a war-cry for literature, rising bloodied and sullied from the trenched, unashamed to be seen in such a dark and animalistic state, to plunge it’s bayonet through the ribcage of fictions that would glorify humanity while sweeping any inconvenient ugliness under the rug.

    Anderson sets his book near the turn of the century, at a time when human interaction was expanding beyond the borders of a small town to a national, and even globalized state. Trains and telegraph wires opened the gates of transportation and communication, bringing everyone closer together regardless of physical distance. Ironically, during this booming era of national headline news, we witness characters feeling evermore isolated and alienated. This message is just as darkly poignant in todays world with the ever-booming social media that allows us to interact instantly and make our every action known to people across the globe, yet many are still beleaguered with a sense of loneliness. Regardless of the ease of communication, it is still just as difficult to make ourselves properly understood, and even sentences typed onto a blog with the warmest of intentions can be misconstrued, ignored, or taken out of context. Can we truly express who we are to anyone? You can only understand me as your perspective of me, as I in turn can only understand myself through my perspective of myself, and express myself in a manner in which I think best reflects me, but is any of this, even the culmination of all these perspectives, the true ‘me’? Can we really know each other, and can we really know ourselves?

    Winesburg, Ohio is easily one of my favorite books. This book makes you want to pay attention to all those around you, get to know them, recognize why they are the way they are, all just so you can show them the kindness and love they need. Like the Knights of Columbus and their pocket sized New Testaments at my beloved alma mater, I want to stand outside the doors of every major university and pass out copies of this book (did this happen at anyone else’s school? I still have a few New Testaments thumping around in the trunk of my car). Anderson’s prose, which is reminiscent of the greatest descriptive paragraphs found within a Steinbeck novel (of whom he was an influence upon, as well as Faulkner, Hemmingway, and even Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff style was inspired by this book), perfectly captures both the beauty and the blemishes of life and paints an unforgettable portrait of the city’s downtown and pastoral scenes. The book is a marvelous montage of reality, becoming greater than the sum of its parts and striking a chord deep within the readers heart that rings out on a universal level. Upon completion, it is as if you have lived a lifetime within Winesburg, and each passing citizen is an old friend. Luckily, there is room within Anderson’s Winesburg for us all.

    Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Be brave enough to dare to be loved. Be something more than man or woman.

    ¹ The fact that Wing is unaware of the circumstances that lead to his being beaten by the drunken barkeep and chased out of town—the unhinged mouth of a youth with unfounded stories of being molested by his teacher—makes the story all that much more tragic, especially as he is embarrassed and horrified by his expressive hands in a nearly Pavlovian sense. The sexual implications of this story, as well as the general sexuality that prevails throughout Winesburg, Ohio is just another aspect that lends to the very modern feel to this classic.

    ² There is a subtle probing at religious morality throughout the novel, that often borders on poking fun at those with strong religious conviction. Though not in the Flannery O’Connor method of exposing those with publicly professed holiness as presenting their beliefs as a façade to hide their rotten core, yet still somehow within the same vein, Anderson presents holiness as yet another truth that if held onto as a singular lifeline casts the individual into the realm of grotesquery. ‘The world is on fire’, Joe Wellington tells George Willard, insisting upon that as a valuable article to include in an upcoming edition of the Eagle, ‘s sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there—they’re all on fire. They’re burning up. Decay you see is always going on. It doesn’t stop.’ Anderson’s novel is about decay within the soul, and even holiness is just another decaying agent where the only antidote is achieved by looking into one another’s hearts and responding with empathy and love.

    ³ George Willard’s family owns a boarding house in the center of town where many of the characters either live or frequent. This is similar to Anderson’s own upbringing living in a boarding house in Clyde, Ohio (Anderson’s fictional Winesburg is heavily influenced by his boyhood home of Clyde, Ohio, resembling many of the locals as well as the geographic nature and arrangement and is in no way representative of the actual city of Winesburg, Ohio). George’s residence there gives him the opportunity to view the comings and goings of many townsfolk and allows them easy access to vomit up their life stories into George’s ears.

  3. says:

    Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life, Sherwood Anderson
    A cycle of short stories concerning life in a small town at the end of the nineteenth century. At the center is George Willard, a young reporter who becomes the confidant of the town's solitary figures. Anderson's stories influenced countless American writers including Hemingway, Faulkner, Updike, Oates and Carver. This new edition corrects errors made in earlier editions and takes into account major criticism and textual scholarship of the last several decades.
    تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم نوامبر سال 2006 میلادی
    عنوان: کتاب عجایب: واینزبرگ اوهایو؛ نویسنده: شروود آندرسن؛ مترجم: روحی افسر؛ ویراستار: شهرام شیدایی؛ تهران، نیلوفر، 1383؛ در 247 ص؛ چاپ دوم 1384؛ موضوع: داستانهای کوتاه از نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 20 م
    عنوان: واینزبورگ اهایو؛ نویسنده: شروود اندرسن؛ مترجم: فرانک جواهری؛ تهران، نشر نیماژ، 1395؛ در 216 ص؛ شابک: 9786003672772؛
    واینزبرگ، اوهایو منطقه‌ ای ست در حال دگرگونی، و آندرسن در این کتاب زندگی آدم‌های واقعی همین شهر خیالی را روایت می‌کند؛ زندگی آدمهایی که هر روز به سر کار خویش میروند، فرزند خود را دوست میدارند، آدم‌هایی که محروم به دنیا می‌آیند، ناکام زندگی میکنند، و هماره در حسرت آن چیزهایی هستند که نمی‌توانند داشته باشند. بنابراین راهی ندارند جز پناه بردن به تنهایی، و خیال‌بافی. زندگی بحرانی آدم‌هایی که خرافات، کوته بینی، و ناتوانی روحی، به آن دامن میزند، ...؛ آندرسن را نویسنده ی نویسنده ها نامیده اند؛ ایشان از نویسندگان عصر طلایی داستان کوتاه در آمریکا، به شمار می‌روند. آندرسن را پدر داستان‌ نویسی مدرن آمریکا می‌دانند. داستان‌های اندرسون، روایت زندگی طبقه متوسط جامعه ی آمریکا، و به ویژه آدم‌های حاشیه ی اجتماع است. آدم‌هایی محروم و ناکام، که گزینشی جز تنهایی، و خیال‌بافی ندارند؛ ... ا. شربیانی

  4. says:

    A beautiful, melancholy song to small-town loneliness and despair--to the fragile bonds that tie neighbors together and the vivid lives and heartfelt personal dramas that pulse beneath the surface of ordinary affairs. This was once a book I carried with me everywhere, a book I tried (and failed) to emulate in my own writing, and a book whose sentences I'd whisper to myself to catch something of their hypnotic cadences. It's easy to see how influential this book was on so much American literature: from Hemingway to Faulkner to Thomas Wolfe to Updike, they (and we) all owe Sherwood Anderson a tremendous debt for opening up the possibilities of fiction in a uniquely American landscape.

  5. says:

    Holy Moley! Virginia Woolf finds the very caverns leading to hell. Sherwood Anderson makes miscellaneous dips in the very depths of actual fire... the residents of Winesburg all live there. They are the ghosts of the living. Anecdotes in Winesburg (devoid of time or protagonist) are juicy with implication and horrific details. They are grave, all of them portends of certain annihilation & the never-ending stasis of existence. What you will see in this unforgettable experiment and ONE OF THE BEST NOVELS out there (where for the first time it is proposed that literature itself is dangerous, that printed material can be lethal): traumas, superstition and tradition; downfalls, nepotism, patricide, misogyny, incest, homosexuality, false promises & doom--examples of mothers going through her son's things in the sure makings of the Norman Bates legend--motifs of hands, of mothers, of homecomings, of back alleys & apes (like Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood"), surplus of churches, of nature itself (birds & bats) in rebellion--moments of intense rapture in full Joan of Arc scariness--characters creating themselves, in that tricky but amazing Quixotean trick.

    This trippy and soul-churning fantasia is a true EXPERIENCE. The narrative voice is poetic & almost clinical about the characters themselves & judgmental & even ultimately playful. The vignettes are twisted morals, cautionary tales. Mega Brilliant.


    I mean, c'mon! The reader is a sucker for fully loaded sentences like that one (this book is entirely composed of 'em). Why hadn't I heard of this, the epicenter of post-nineteenth century experimental postmodernism?

  6. says:

    AKA: Goddamn you, George Willard

    My apologies to you, goodreads're going to have to make room for one more. This book is bittersweet like therapy, like sweating out a lifetime's worth of drugs and drink in a mentholly sauna-room, like looking through a photo album from a decade or so ago when you thought you knew who you were but you had no idea...and still probably don't. Well, neither do the folks in Winesburg, Ohio. I loved, sympathized with and related to each individual, even down to that pervy preacher who just needs to get over that Jesus shit and let himself wank it guilt-free. His voyeuristic position is a perfect illustration of how it feels to read this series of you're crouched in a dark room peeping across the way into the windows of each character and using your Sookie Stackhouse powers to penetrate their most personal of personal thoughts. Their most glorious private poetry and most hideous self-obsession. To put it simply, Sherwood Anderson knows a motherfucker. He's so sharp, he could read an 8-point font from across a gymnasium. He'll read you, too, if you let him. I love you, Sherwood, Robin Hood-y name and all. This is one for the short list of books I will read again, disregarding my general motto of "so many books, so little time." I've got all the time in the world for you, Sherry Baby.

    *Recommended to anyone who has or will ever wonder what Flannery O'Connor would've written on a vacation up north under the influence of a low-dose of Prozac.

  7. says:

    Fuck, I loved this book...

    I loved its drab mood, and existential feel.

    I loved the descriptive writing, and the small town, midwest setting, with the seasons and people changing, but life in general, staying the same.

    I loved the wild brilliance to the endings.

    More than anything, and what made this novel truly special to me, was its insight into the raw emotions and psychological underpinnings of people's inner worlds. Reading this felt like peering into human nature.

    I loved the depth of characters; their being out of place, hoping, secretly yearning for more. Heck yeah, they have crises going on -- we all do, and we gain from learning from the particular personal crises told of in this book. A main reason for this is exactly because most of these characters are different. To use Sherwood's word, they're "grotesques". Even the characters that seem normal to the rest of the community are actually stewing with emotion deep inside.

    I'm going to get personal here for a second. I've been a grotesque. It's true. When I was in high school my face was covered in acne and so red from massive dosages of Accutane, I looked like a freak. I'm not exaggerating; it was so bad it made me an outcast for more than a year. During that time I was withdrawn, paranoid, I thought of death and God constantly; I lost most of my friends, and what new friends I had were mostly, yes, also grotesques. But guess what? I wouldn't trade that period of time for anything in the entire world. I'm convinced that that period of time; that 1/27th of my life, is responsible for 90% of any depth I have in me today. The new perceptions obtained, the insights into human nature that came to me, the range of emotions I felt, were all priceless gifts to my soul. And that my friends, is the affect that the characters in this novel can have on you.

    There's a feeling of hopelessness to this book, yes; but it's a realistic one, and it's not completely hopeless. In every page a feeling penetrates through indicating that despite life's worthless existence, we can make something of it; we can find meaning, or some kind of connection with another. It may not work out, but there's something special to the struggle itself. All those disappointing endings to the stories of your life don't make you rare; they make you human. This novel helps you take comfort in that.

    Two more things.

    It seems that men tend to like this book more than women. I say this just from reading reviews and looking at my goodreads friends list, so I could be wrong. But... of the 16 male GR friends that read Winesburg, Ohio, the ratings were spread out like this:

    1 star: 0
    2 stars: 1
    3 stars: 2
    4 stars: 6
    5 stars: 7

    Average: 4.19

    Only seven females from my friend list read this (and my GR friends are about 50% female). Their ratings were spread out like this:

    1 star: 1
    2 stars: 2
    3 stars: 1
    5 stars: 3

    Average: 3.29

    The three 5 star ratings by females is damn encouraging, and there's some damn good 4 and 5 star reviews by females on goodreads, as well. BUT, most of the 1 and 2 star reviews are from females, too, so there does seem to be a trend. So... if you're male, I can't NOT recommend this to you; if not from judging by the star ratings, then from my own personal experience, which makes me want to shout out my love for the book from the window of my apartment. I'll do it! And females, I think you should at least give this a shot, because there's a decent chance that you could love it too. Maybe read the first few chapters and see what you think; you should know if it's for you or not, by then.

    Lastly, I want to thank David, whose amazing -- and now, after having read the novel, in my mind, perfect -- review of this, inspired me to buy it; this book that I will read at least every few years for as long as I can read. Goodreads enriches my life once again. Thank you, David. Check out his review, here.

  8. says:

    Winesburg, Ohio, is certainly the geographical ancestor of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Washington, and Lumberton, North Carolina (Blue Velvet) -- not so much for its omens of severed ears and one-armed men, but for its wealth of turbulent emotion (e.g., rage, despair, lust, contempt... all the good ones, really) concealed behind a picturesque scrim of small town American life. Yeah, the shopworn theme of middle class American repression has been done to death -- Sam Mendes’s American Beauty may have seemed its trite little death knell -- but the masters always manage to make it fresh and insightful. And let’s not forget, naysayers, that Sherwood Anderson published this, his masterpiece, in 1919. That’s right. Ninety years ago, and I guarantee that it’s a helluva lot more modern, in language and sensibility, than some of the stuff being written today. If it weren’t for the talk of carriages and Butch Wheeler lighting the street lamps, you might not even guess at its age at all. It’s had literary Botox or something.

    One of my new favorite books of all time, Winesburg, Ohio is also the longest shortest book I have ever read in my life... which isn’t to say that it’s tedious or verbose or difficult, but that each short story in this compilation of character sketches about Winesburg residents contains so incredibly much, that the emotional weight of three or four of them in one sitting is enough or is as much as human empathy will tolerate. Make no mistake... The people of Winesburg are, for the most part, pretty fucking miserable. I ain’t kidding you: the lion’s share of them are privately contending with some deep sense of loss or regret or dissatisfaction which they are -- or merely feel -- powerless to overcome.

    I mean, just take a good look at a few of ‘em: Wing Bindlebaum lugs around the (unfounded) rumors of his pedophilia, keeping him from expressing himself freely; Elizabeth Willard suffers from marrying her cold, neglectful husband Tom because 'he was at hand and wanted to marry at the time when the determination to marry came to her' (ah, romance!); Elmer Crowley is so obsessed with the fear of being perceived as strange (or 'queer' in the original sense of the term), that he makes of himself the most inexplicable town oddity; and Alice Hindman, who I think is the saddest one of all (no small feat), saves herself for a man who has left town and forgotten her and lies in bed at night 'turning her face to the wall [and:] trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg.'

    Wow is right. There are some pretty baroque -- not to say bleak -- interior lives inhabiting these plain and simple-seeming folk. Because the narrative component in these stories is only a means to illustrate -- no, not illustrate -- transmit these inner lives to the reader, I think it’s fairer to call them vignettes. Regardless of seasons, characters, and particulars, each one transpires in a gauzy-golden-late-autumnal-Bergmanesque-twilit-dream-state. We see too opaquely into the psychological interiority for this to be hard-and-fast realism. We experience these vignettes primarily as auras, moods, and eulogies.

    Sherwood Anderson’s use of language in Winesburg, Ohio is definitely worth mentioning because it feels profoundly unique. Yeah, sure, his sparse, colloquial prose is a kindred spirit of sorts with Gertrude Stein’s and Ernest Hemingway’s, but it’s certainly not neat or easy. What I mean is that, just because the bulk of the words are elementary, monosyllabic, it doesn’t follow that the reader glides effortlessly over the prose. Anderson often tosses in non-sequiturs, layered abstractions, mysterious phrases, and clunky rhythms to keep his readers fully engaged. Nestled within the simple, matter-of-fact narration in 'Death,' for instance, we find these two sentences:

    In the big empty office the man and the woman sat looking at each other and they were a good deal alike. Their bodies were different as were also the color of their eyes, the length of their noses and the circumstances of their existence, but something inside them meant the same thing, wanted the same release, would have left the same impression on the memory of an onlooker.

    Incredible. 'Something inside them meant the same thing.' That little verb, dispatched in an unfamiliar and enigmatic way, makes the sentence. Rather than feeling or thinking the same way, the two shared a significance. What does that mean exactly? You can almost grasp it or catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye, but it’s one of those things you need to feel to really understand.

    I also can’t help but love the serial parity of eyes, noses, and existences in the second sentence. There’s a beautiful awkwardness in that phrase that quietly thrills me. (Yes, I’ll own my literary geekiness. It thrills me... and, now, no longer quietly!)

    Winesburg, Ohio is only the nineteenth book I’ve added to my literary Valhalla, otherwise known as my 'pants-crapping-awesome' bookshelf. It is a rare and beautiful thing, and I am still wondering if you realize how much I loved it... If not, call me at home and I’ll tell you all about it.

  9. says:

    "I wanted to run away from everything but I wanted to run towards something too. Don't you see, dear, how it was?"
    -- Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio


    This is one of those important novels I would have probably passed over or missed if Sherwood Anderson wasn't mentioned in so many lists--and if so many authors I admire (Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, O'Connor, McCarthy) didn't mention (or perhaps not mention, but just shadow) him as an influence or inspiration.

    There is something beautiful about every single sentence that Anderson writes. Some of the stories in 'Winesburg, Ohio' (Death, Loneliness, the Strength of God, Godliness, and Adventure) were nearly perfect. Others, while they might not have hit me as hard as those five, were still almost uniformly beautiful and interesting. Like waves beating rhythmically against a wall, Anderson's stories seemed to gently deliver a message from the universe of the grotesque. Ideas of isolation, loneliness, love and the need to reach out to others (to find love or understanding) float from one story to the next and weave the various plots of the twenty-two short stories together. 'Winesburg, Ohio' is a great piece of American fiction and an amazing piece of 2oth century art.

  10. says:

    July 2010

    Hey, Winesburg, Ohio. You got a minute? There’s something I want to talk to you about.

    Look, we’ve been reading each other for a few weeks now, and I think we’ve both had a good time. I’m glad we decided to move slowly. You’re a collection of short stories and, however linked those stories were, I wanted to take the time to appreciate each one. It seemed like the right thing to do. And it was. You're an amazing book, full of passion and life, an old-fashioned kind of gal. Really charming...

    ...But, as you've probably noticed, something isn't right. I haven't been completely attentive to your needs, and I've been really distracted lately--heck, there were those times I disappeared for days at a time--and this past week seemed, well, a bit rushed, like I was trying to make up for something. I know you're confused. But I want you to know you've done nothing wrong. Thing is--well, thing is, there's something important I need to tell you:

    I’ve been reading other books.

    Honestly, Winesburg, Ohio, it’s not you, it’s me. Really. I’m not really a one-book kind of guy. I’m sorry, I know, I know, I should have told you before we got together, but--well--I’m not really good at being exclusive. I like variety. You might even say I'm polybiblioamorous, if that's even a proper term. It’s just who I am. And the other books I was reading the same time we were together--there were a few, I’m sorry, I shouldve said something--but those other books, they were, they were just so powerful.

    I was with Palimpsest for a bit--that actually ended a little after I met you, but man, she was kinky. Then I was with The Dervish House--that one was just so worldly, so wise beyond its years, but adventurous and fun, too. Then there was Uncommon Carriers--we didn’t actually do anything, it was more of a cerebral thing, if you know what I mean--and I just got out a long relationship with Mining the Sky, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the future...

    I’m with Kraken now. Not really sure what I see in him, but he has a good soul. I think he can change.

    Oh, god, don’t cry. Please don’t cry. This isn't your fault. I like books--I like them a lot--and I just can't settle for one at a time. I should have told you. I just thought I could just pick you up and have some fun on the side, enjoy you a little before moving on to the next collection, but that didn't work. There's something special about you. Really, there is, and I was so caught up with those other books that I just didn't see it until it was too late. You're this charming small-town book in a world of big-city stories, and I took you for granted. That wasn't fair at all, I know. I'm sorry. And I want to make it up to you, but...but I think it might be too late for that.

    I think we need some time apart. Really, please, listen to me. I think this is for the best. You're a special gal, and you deserve a reader who can fully appreciate you, and that just isn't me right now. I want to reread you sometime--I really do!--and I think that someday, maybe, there will come a time where I'm not reading anything else and it can be just the two of us, together. Now is just a bad time for me. Kraken is this big stubborn oaf, but I kinda like him. And I like you, too, and I want to read you again, if you'll let me. Someday.

    Do you think we can try that, Winesburg, Ohio?

    Winesburg, Ohio?

    Winesburg, Ohio?

    Please, come back! I'm...I'm sorry...


    Bad news, Knockemstiff, looks like that threesome won't be happening after all.