Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, March 1933

Ann Vickers. By Sinclair Lewis. Doubleday, Doran. $2.50.

There is, in the book Ann Vickers, a rattling panorama of things west and east of New York; and, in the midst of that panorama, a woman with her feelings changing and changing. Ann Vickers, starting with Illinois, wanted some man who knew his own mind, was fairly fleshly, and wasn't given to dilly-dallying; she also wants to adjust herself to a tremendous, tricky, flexible universe. The search for the forthright man begins when Ann is twelve or so—the imperial boy, Adolph Klebs, is the male around then; and ends when Ann is forty, is famous and with more than her share of illuminating disappointments.

As Ann goes searching, longing, and learning, a lot of America of these late times is shown us by the zealous, sharp, mischievous Mr. Lewis. Ann Vickers has some of the fiercest and most effective note-taking I know; Mr. Lewis's eye, or inside card-index, is like an efficient gimlet. When Mr. Lewis makes fun of something, the thing stays funny; and when he probes something, the thing stays probed. Ann becomes a suffrage-worker, a prison-cleanser; and she meets all sorts of reformistic, prominent, and back-alley people; and what Ann meets is creatively investigated by the Lewis committee. Some of wildest and highest New York of the last twenty years hilariously reposes in Ann Vickers; out-of-the-way females, nation-saviors, government-botherers, ultra-delicate poets, oily social-workers and all sorts of sex-revolutionists and biology-sub verters.

The Lewis observation, as hinted, does all kinds of glorious and pleasure-giving things, but the burrowing and fiery Lewis creation, to be seen in Main Street, has, I believe, become more sedate, weaker. Mr. Lewis can take notes like the very devil; he is searchlight and pickaxe at once; he can mold his notes into something live and intense; but he hasn't burrowed so deep into himself in his latest novel. Too much of Ann Vickers is just a wonderful, necessary job. As an instance, thousands of persons will see a prison-building differently if they meet one while riding or walking, just because they read about Copperhead Gap Prison in Lewis's book; it will be impossible for them to do otherwise, for Lewis just twists the sickeningly cruel prison into you, in a way that words can, and the motion-picture or theatre can't. But one feels that yet more could be said, and unimpeded creation could say it. Also, Mr. Lewis's desire to say the awful-lest and funniest about America and elsewhere sociologically, makes for novelistic bulges and vacancies. I suppose, therefore, that all laudatory adjectives could be used about Mr. Lewis's last novel except those meaning that it was great.

Eli Siegel.


Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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More Scribner's Reviews by Eli Siegel

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arrowAnn Vickers by Sinclair Lewis
arrowBreathe Upon These Slain by Evelyn Scott
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