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Sinclair Lewis: Babbit (Paperback, 2006, BiblioBazaar) 4 stars

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement …

Review of 'Babbit' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

My favorite Lewis that I’ve read so far. Outstanding.

Lewis speaks profoundly to how middle-class life with its trappings of materialism, social conformity, and diligent work can provoke an existential crisis in even its most fervent adherents. George F. Babbitt is a middle-aged, successful real estate agent. He lives in an affluent suburb of “Zenith,” an on-the-rise Ohio city. Although he engages in graft and corruption occasionally to make deals, he generally sees himself as respectable and moral. He belongs to numerous organizations, such as the Elk Lodge and the Athletic Club. (As a brief aside, it is interesting to see how dated volunteerism is in the United States now. One could not really see a novel published in 2021 depicting a character who belongs to numerous fraternal and social organizations, something that Tocqueville called a staple of the American identity in the 1830s).

However, Babbitt is plagued by a nagging unease. It hits him in the silence of night. Perhaps there is more to life than the mere grind of earning money and conforming to the domestic ideal. Lewis first hints at this crisis through the character Paul (Paulibus) Riesling, an old University friend of Babbitt. Riesling suffers from a terrible marriage and seeks his outlet through flirtations with other women. Early in the novel, Lewis presents Babbitt as the stout moralizer who chastises Riesling for looking at other women and contemplating his life outside of marriage. Yet, deep-down Babbitt suffers from the same ailment. Thus, the novel through its satire suggests something universal about an individual’s resistance to the constraints of a selected path in life. Babbitt descends into chaos as he pursues the alternatives to his domestic docility and, in the end, returns to the complacency of conformity. Yet, Lewis writes a passionate and penetrating interpretation of middle-aged angst.

Highly recommended.