Anthony Mathenia's Reviews > The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
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I picked up The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit with the understanding that it inspired the popular television show Mad Men. In reading the book the similarities are readily apparent. Both deal with the white collar corporate environment of the late 1950's, early 1960's. The leads in both are war time veterans attempting to find where they fit in, balancing their New York careers with their suburban home life and struggling with their duty to their wives and the torch they still carry in their heart for another.

The lead character is Tom Rath, a former World War II paratrooper, working a corporate job and slogging along in the pursuit of happiness. His wife Betsy dreams of moving up in the world and encourages Tom to try for a potentially lucrative job as a public relations professional in a major television network. Tom lands the job and has an opportunity for real advancement as the right hand man of network head Ralph Hopkins. Hopkins is consumed with work at the expense of his family life and Tom has to decide if he is willing to make the same sacrifice. The main story is interesting enough but the subplots were pretty flat and unnecessary, such as Tom's legal attempt to obtain an inherited home versus a rival claimant.

Where this book is most compelling is when it deals with the brutality of wartime. Tom fights the inner demons that come from the death of his friends and the enemies he killed with his own hands. There is a very moving passage in the book where Tom attempts to rationalize the lunacy of wartime with his post war life. It begins with, "they ought to begin wars with a course in basic training and end them with a course in basic forgetting." So true.

The writing in this novel is serviceable to the story, neither good or bad. I wasn't wowed by the plot of the the Gray Flannel Suit. It often seemed to drag, such as when it dealt with Tom's constant attempt to rewrite a speech for Hopkins. As a whole, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, is an authentic capsule of the mentality of the time and I suppose worth reading for that, especially for those interested in the era.
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