Some reviewers have removed stars on "Alice Adams" because of racist remarks and depiction of African Americans. While I agree that those portions werSome reviewers have removed stars on "Alice Adams" because of racist remarks and depiction of African Americans. While I agree that those portions were difficult to read and were, frankly, cringe-inducing, they were a pretty accurate portrait of how many white Americans viewed some of their neighbors in the 1920s.
For me, the book didn't seem Pulitzer- or 5-star-worthy because the moral was driven home too forcefully. It's hard to believe that anyone acted as hysterical as Mrs. Adams, as false as Alice, or as odd as brother Adams; had these elements of character been refined, the morality play wouldn't have felt quite so ham-fisted. I also think Arthur Russell's character was like a cardboard cutout, but that may have been intentional as I reflect further. With that said, Booth Tarkington is an author that is somewhat overlooked today despite the genius of "The Magnificent Ambersons" and flashes throughout "Alice Adams" and is worth reading. There were portions of the book that were practically tactile due to his nuanced descriptions.
Another reviewer drew an interesting comparison between "Pride and Prejudice" and "Alice Adams." If I can find it again, I'll link it in to properly credit then. However, I believe there are more differences than similarities. Elizabeth Bennett may have been embarrassed by her loony family at times, but she loved them and didn't pretend to be something she was not. In fact, what makes her live and breathe just over 200 years later is that she is always Lizzie, whether making flawed judgements or not. Alice, too, shares many similarities with real people I've known who wish to move in higher circles, but who wish to get there off of others' efforts. From that perspective, she's quite real. And what woman hasn't flirted audaciously at least once in her life, which it seems Alice could not help. Lizzie actually comes from an upper echelon family, whereas Alice is firmly lower middle class. But, both women were constrained by the limited opportunities for women to advance on their own, although Alice did have the possibility of business college for a likely future as a secretary open to her. Also, the romance between Alice and Arthur is tenuous versus true love between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy.
Perhaps Alice, despite being very Midwestern, is more like Scarlett O'Hara; she wants what she cannot have and is ultimately punished for it. Although the very ending of "Alice Adams" had a religious feel, one gets the sense that Alice may find happiness. However, it almost seems like Alice has to join a cloister given her severe dress, so we aren't sure that she'll ever find the right man for her.
I kept having déjà vu while reading the book and finally looked for a movie version. Indeed, there is a 1935 adaptation starring Katherine Hepburn and a young Fred MacMurray that I must have seen and will rewatch as soon as it shows up....more