" Theodore Dreiser is a man who, with the passage of time, is bound to loom larger and larger in the awakening aesthetic consciousness of America. Among all of our prose writers he is one of the few men of whom it may be said that he has . . . never been a trickster. If there is a modern movement in American prose writing, a movement toward greater courage and fidelity to life in writing, Theodore Dreiser is the pioneer and the hero of the movement."--Sherwood Anderson
Long before she was seduced by the cautious and ordinary man whose life she would unravel with no malice and only intermittent interest, the young Carrie Meeber was seduced by the promise of the city--its vitality and reckless possibility, the thrill of material luxury, and the spectacle of power and industry. Banned on publication for its questionable morals, Sister Carrie is the great American novel of seduction, a masterpiece of insight into appetite and innocence.
"Such a novel as Sister Carrie stands quite outside the brief traffic of the customary stage. It leaves behind an inescapable impression of bigness, of epic sweep and dignity. It is not a mere story, not a novel in the customary American meaning of the word; it is at once a psalm of life and a criticism of life. . . . [Dreiser's] aim is not merely to tell a tale; his aim is to show the vast ebb and flow of forces which sway and condition human destiny. The thing he seeks to do is to stir, to awaken, to move. One does not arise from such a book as Sister Carrie with a smirk of satisfaction; one leaves it infinitely touched."--H. L. Mencken
, Theodore Dreiser's revolutionary first novel, was published in 1900--sort of. The story of Carrie Meeber, an 18-year-old country girl who moves to Chicago and becomes a kept woman, was strong stuff at the turn of the century, and what Dreiser's wary publisher released was a highly expurgated version. Times change, and we now have a restored "author's cut" of Sister Carrie
that shows how truly ahead of his time Dreiser was. First and foremost, he has written an astute, nonmoralizing account of a woman and her limited options in late-19th-century America. That's impressive in and of itself, but Dreiser doesn't stop there. Digging deeply into the psychological underpinnings of his characters, he gives us people who are often strangers to themselves, drifting numbly until fate pushes them on a path they can later neither defend nor even remember choosing.
Dreiser's story unfolds in the measured cadences of an earlier era. This sometimes works brilliantly as we follow the choices, small and large, that lead some characters to doom and others to glory. On the other hand, the middle chapters--of which there are many--do drag somewhat, even when one appreciates Dreiser's intentions. If you can make it through the sagging midsection, however, you'll be rewarded by Sister Carrie's last 150 pages, which depict the harrowing downward spiral of one of the book's central characters. Here Dreiser portrays with brutal power how the wrong decision--or lack of decision--can lay waste to a life. --Rebecca Gleason