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Free Air

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  574 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
Fame was just around the corner when Sinclair Lewis published Free Air in 1919, a year before Main Street. The latter novel zeroed in on the town of Gopher Prairie; the former stopped there briefly and then took the reader by automobile in search of America. Free Air heads toward a West that was brimming with possibilities for suddenly mobile Americans at the end of a worl ...more
Paperback, 370 pages
Published April 1st 1993 by Bison Books (first published 1919)
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Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic
Written in 1919, this is the story of Claire Boltwood - NY socialite on a road trip with her wealthy businessman father from Minnesota to Seattle. They get a true taste of the wide open spaces as they motor their car through the small towns of the plains and mountains of the west. Perhaps their biggest realization is the beauty of Americans that wouldn't fit neatly in their social circles. Along the way, Claire picks up an admirer in small-town mechanic Milt Dagwood. While he adores her, can she ...more
Aug 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I think it was Raymond Chandler who said that when he was writing a story and the plot began to drag, he would have a man come through the door with a gun. Sinclair Lewis did something very similar at the end of each segment of his 1917 serial Free Air by inserting an abrupt meeting between one of his two protagonists and the person he or she least wants to see. The first 150 pages or so of the novel version, published two years later, are so clever and charming that it's a real letdown when the ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
It's 1919 and Miss Claire Boltwood of Brooklyn and her father are on a road trip. They are driving west from Minneapolis to Seattle.

Think about it. Most of the roads are not paved. You have to buy gas in cans from a hardware store. The only mechanic in a small Montana town might be the blacksmith. Claire had to know her engine and how to fix it, how to repair and replace tires, how to drive up steep inclines and, more important, down them (in 2nd gear using both the foot and hand brakes.) The b
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
FREE AIR. (1919). Sinclair Lewis. ***.
This was a novel by Lewis that I had not known of before I fell across it at a used book store. After reading it, I wondered how the author would manage to write books that came later that would be classics of American literature and win for him a Nobel Prize for literature. Lewis used this book as a way of putting down the class distinctions that existed in this country. He used the simplest of characters to represent the upper classes and the corresponding
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
If, as the saying goes, cynics are just disappointed idealists, then here we have Sinclair Lewis' ideal vision of America on the cusp of his success as the razor-sharp satirist of middle America. Like Huck and Jim on their raft, Claire and Milt represent the great American ideal--freedom, equality, and a sense of adventure. They embrace a pioneer spirit born of blue collar pragmatism that at once desires and rejects wealth and class stature. Lewis' description of the great Western road trip is p ...more
T.P. Williams
Oct 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
If you can get over the condescending, cynical tone of the narrator, book stands our for a couple of reasons - it describes a cross-country car trip at the dawn of the motor age, and again has a female character as the main character. I thought the romance with the man from the middle west was contrived, and the way he kept popping up in the narrative was fairly absurd. Dated, but interesting for being dated, giving a picture of America during and after WWI. Other characters were poorly develope ...more
Ward Hammond
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible
Oh, what a great story. A love story. I am in love with Sinclair Lewis.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last book I read that made me smile and laugh so often. Lewis' prose is so fluid and so full of life and character. Free Air has instantly become one of my favorite love stories, and hopefully the start of a great literary romance with Lewis' works.

A special thank you to Steven Michels' essay on Public Domain Review, "American Freedom: Sinclair Lewis and the Open Road," for introducing me to the book and linking me to a PDF of the original printing.
Dec 10, 2012 rated it liked it
If you are usually a fan of Sinclair Lewis, I need to be up front. This is not one of his best. If you are new to the author, you may want to start with Elmer Gantry, Babbitt, or Main Street. However, if you want to give one of his earlier, more minor works a try, this one isn't awful. I know that isn't exactly a glowing recommendation, but compared to a lot of trash the world has to offer (I'm looking at you, Stephenie Meyer), this really is worth a go. And here's why.

I've gotten into arguments
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
In the silent film era, Sinclair Lewis’ Free Air was a film where a wealthy socialite drives from Minnesota to Seattle and encounters several down-to-earth members of the lower “caste.” Free Air is not one of Lewis’ more profound efforts. It is no horrifying political thriller as in It Can’t Happen Here nor parody of, respectively, business and religion as in Babbit and Dodsworth or Elmer Gantry. It does not reflect a larger ethical dilemma as in the racism of Kingsblood Royal or the medical pro ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic-lit
If you have never heard of Sinclair Lewis before, you can think of him as F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s counterpart. He also published during the ‘roaring twenties,’ but wrote of many different classes of people. It seems he especially liked yoking together characters from high society and low society, to see how they get along. This yoking together is exactly what he does in Free Air (April 1922), the seventh of twenty-six novels he has written.

Similar to what we envision of the 1920′s, Lewis’ prose co
Jul 31, 2014 rated it liked it
The first half of this book was a surprise to me. I had never thought of what the highways across America would have been like at their beginning, when the idea of a cross-country car trip was completely novel and daring. I wish there had been more details about that, I wish the whole book had been about the road trip. The fact that it's a young woman driving the car (with her father as passenger - he couldn't drive, not having learned how) made the story that much more interesting. Of course, i ...more
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sarah, so she can read a good Sinclair Lewis. Brian, because it would amuse him.
I was pretty disappointed in Main Street for a few reasons, but I liked his plot line in Free Air. For me, it was really fun reading the first book based upon an American road trip. I feel this captured the optimism of the open road really well. There was a transformation of the main character, great side characters met on the way, and wonderful descriptions of the American West. As Sinclair Lewis is from Minnesota, I got excited when he used places I knew such as Washington Avenue.

The only neg
Holly Wood
Oct 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-class
Originally published as a serial for the Saturday Evening Post, this story of a wealthy socialite driving a car across the country in 1919 was a major ordeal. They interstate system wouldn't be built for some 30 more years. So when Claire gets her monstrously expensive car stuck in a muddy pothole and pulled out by the town's handsome mechanic, you have a fairly classic setup for a meet cute.

This story is Titanic on land. Milt is enamored by Claire's boldness, trekking out from Brooklyn to Seatt
Jeremy Morgan
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was great. I love old pulp, especially when it's a wild journey, and this road trip book was a fun and exciting read. I went through a bunch of public domain kindle books just browsing, and I figured I would read a page or two of each to see what caught my attention. This book caught me on the first page.

I'ts very light like others have mentioned, but it does get you thinking about society and lifestyles and how things haven't really changed all that much in almost 100 years. But it's
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the man who brought us The Job and Elmer Gantry as well as Main Street and Babbit comes a hilarious romantic romp!

OK. This isn't up there with his other books, but that does not mean that Free Air doesn't have anything to say. It says a lot--granted a lot of what it says isn't all that important. But, every now and then, it hits it square on the head.

In a book that deals with moving up in class and down in class and sideways in class, the most poignant and telling scene in the entire book
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Light but lovely - it's not On the Road, but it's getting there, as a journey of geographic and personal discovery through the West in 1916, full of little details of food, hotels, flivvers and cupboards with pierced-tin doors, and all the immigrants and plutes and fourflushers. There's something quite irritating in the non-travel bits of the story - boy improving himself for the sake of a society girl's affections and she of course needs to improve herself too but they're both such swell kids.. ...more
Sheela Word
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: romance, novels
2 1/2 stars really. I like Sinclair Lewis and have read most of his books, but hadn't heard of this one until Amazon offered it to me as a freebie. Now I know why. The plot is meandering and lacks the satirical bite of Lewis's better-known novels.

The hero is a smart country boy who falls in love at first sight with an aristocratic girl who is driving her father from New York to Seattle as part of a "rest cure." The hero essentially stalks the heroine, following her big car with his little one, a
May 20, 2015 rated it liked it
I just wanted to say that the reason I read this book was because of Jimmy Darmody from Boardwalk Empire. Yes, you read that correctly. I was binge-watching Boardwalk Empire last month and I grew attached to Jimmy; his character liked reading books and one of the books he read was this, Free Air. I absolutely loved the road tripping section of the book which was the first part and the emphasis on Claire and Milt's clashes because of their different social standpoints and upbringings. But can I j ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Seattleites, historians, road trippers
It's no Main Street or Babbit but this work just before Lewis achieved international acclaim and a Nobel prize is light and fun. It has aged pretty well for a light adventure/romance of its day, especially if you like the era the book was written and set in (both 1910s). The plot is quite obvious, but at least the characters are well developed and nobody is written as pure angel or villain. I probably got the most enjoyment from the setting of a 1910s western road trip and then life in Seattle o ...more
Boots S
A cute light love story.
When the windshield was closed it became so filmed with rain that Claire fancied she was piloting a drowned car in dim spaces under the sea. When it was open, drops jabbed into her eyes and chilled her cheeks. She was excited and thoroughly miserable. She realized that these Minnesota country roads had no respect for her polite experience on Long Island parkways. She felt like a woman, not like a driver. But the Gomez-Dep roadster had seventy horsepower, and sang songs. S
Rick Saunders
Oct 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
I adored this book. I had not read any Sinclir Lewis in 25 years, having read what I thought was all of his work. It turned out that I missed a few of his earliest books. It reminded me how much I loved reading him, and now I'm in the process of rereading all his books again. Does this rank with Elmer Gantry or Babbitt? Or It can't happen here? Maybe not. But it was a delight none the less. Lewis's vast vocabulary, his progressive and enlightened politics are all there in a very interesting road ...more
Jenny T
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I confess: I picked this up after it was mentioned on the tv show "Boardwalk Empire." Published in 1919, this was a light-hearted, road-trip, battle-between-the-classes romance, between wealthy Claire Boltwood ("used to gracious leisure, attractive uselessness, nut-center chocolates, and a certain wonder as to why she was alive) who, on a road trip from New York to Seattle, meets Milt Daggett, the working-class owner of a small-town garage. Cultures clash, drama ensues (bears! hijackers! seedy h ...more
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1919 this story is one of the first in the tradition of road trip books. Jaunty with the verbal slapstick comedy and slang it is a great little piece of the era. Lewis has as his hero the working man Milt who is in love, maybe, with the upper class Claire. They meet on on a cross country journey on the New American Road, he in his inexpensive flivver car and she and her father in their deluxe import. The art of driving and how travelers spend the nights, meals and other accommodations ...more
E.W. Lewis
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read a good many of Sinclair Lewis' works. Seeing this title suddenly available at my local bookstore I could not resist the impulse to yet again dive into one of my favorite authors. I began the read a bit timidly due to its being written in the early career (and as a serial) of the author.

The book read easily. The language was not cumbersome and flowed one paragraph to the next. The quick humor of S.Lewis was not lost and in some ways even more prevalent than in later works. His use of
Day O'Dea
Bit of a lightweight read from Sinclair Lewis, so it's unsurprising that it’s a relatively obscure effort of his. This is Sinclair Lewis does the roadtrip genre (before that even was truly a genre), and there's a pretty strong dose of class consciousness thrown into the mix. Wouldn't recommend it as a first Lewis book to someone, nor would I recommend it to someone who isn't a fan of Lewis – it’s perfectly fine, but it’s not noteworthy in any way. It also bears mention that, too, the central pre ...more
Denise Jordan
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good read

Interesting read, liked the characters, esp. MIILT and Claire. Would recommend this book. Will read other books by this author.
Shirley Freeman
I was half way through reading Freedom, the new book by Jonathan Franzen, when I thought "I need to put this down for awhile - just can't stand the characters and their dumb decisions." I wanted to read something nicer. Started searching amazon for romances/cheap kindle downloads. This was 95 cents. Sinclair Lewis wrote Free Air in 1919 just before he became famous with his book Main Street. It is definitely dated, especially in the use of slang for various minority people (uses Jap etc.) but it ...more
William Bibliomane
Nov 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: road-trip
Free Air should still be classed as a juvenile novel of Sinclair Lewis, but that doesn't mean that it is devoid of charm. Adapted from a magazine serial, Lewis' sixth published work and last novel before Main Street is full of interesting touches, particularly for any reader interested in America in the 1910s, and the history of road travel long before the interstate highway system was a glint in Eisenhower's eye. Although not a great book, it is a good book, and gives hints of the writer that L ...more
Dec 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, audible
Slow start introducing the two principal characters, Claire and Milt, but once their joint (parallel?) adventure gets underway things liven up a bit. Last part of the story concerns "will they? won't they?" after reaching their destination; Claire seemed a bit wimpier, but Milt's so gosh darned likeable that it was worth staying through to the conclusion (there are a couple of plot twists thrown in that provide tension, and comic relief).
Audio narration was good, but so "enthusiastic" that I cou
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Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930 "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H.L. Mencken wrote of him, "[If] the ...more
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