Emily May's Reviews > Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
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's review
Sep 01, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, short-stories, 2012
Read from October 04 to 09, 2012

I apologise for my lack of originality, but I need to steal karen's perfect summarisation of this book: "this book is life - it is tender and gentle and melancholy and real. not everything works out according to plan here, but what ever does?"

There is no better way to put it than that. Winesburg, Ohio is a collection of short stories about the inhabitants of the small town of Winesburg, it is a very real story about the lives of "normal" people. Those people who work hard every day of their lives and never get rewarded for their dedication. Those who pray each day for the one thing they've always wanted... only to remain disappointed. Those who are sad and broken from having never been loved as a child, those who were never good enough for the people in their lives. This little book captures so many emotions in just over 250 pages: pain, happiness, fear, want, greed, sadness, frustration...

This book is filled with beautiful, quotable writing and the last line is one of the best finishing lines I've ever read. It just adds that cherry on top of this sundae and left me feeling a whirlwind of emotions. As does the whole book. Sherwood uses the short story method to explore different styles of story-telling when dealing with different characters in this small town. For example, the second story in the book is called Hands and tells the tale of Wing Biddlebaum through his hands that have inspired emotions from wonder to hatred in the hearts of the people he has known in his life. "The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of hands. Their restless activity, like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird, had given him his name."

Another example of Sherwood's experimentation with styles that I really liked was in Godliness: A Tale in Four Parts. In this, the author tells the story of a family from the point of view of different family members and your opinion of the characters change with each one you read. At first, Louise is a selfish and argumentative woman who neglects her son and is prone to fits of anger or alternatively periods of withdrawal and silence. But then Sherwood switches perspective to allow for understanding: "Before such women as Louise can be understood and their lives made livable, much will have to be done. Thoughtful books will have to be written and thoughtful lives lived by people about them." Because Louise was not born with rage and frustration inside her, it was put there by life and others who failed her. Sherwood's portrait of a woman at this time and the limits put upon her because she is a woman and not a man is sad and somewhat ahead of its time.

I really wanted to give this five stars and I almost did, but I held back from doing so when I paused to look back over the book and realised the quality of some stories is far greater than others and it was the stronger stories that were tempting me to rate higher. But readers of short story collections often acknowledge that this is frequently the case and I don't want to put you off reading this. It's hard not to be touched by the realities these people faced and I think this would be the perfect opportunity to compare with The Casual Vacancy - another book about the lives of people in a small, quiet town and how they are not as calm and gentle as one may be tempted to believe.

I want to make this comparison because I tried to read Rowling's adult novel and found myself too bored to continue. So I inevitably started to believe that this was down to the subject matter and the subtle tone of the book and perhaps my not-so-secret super love of wizards and magic. I personally think Winesburg, Ohio is proof that it wasn't my lack of ability to appreciate a certain type of story and that it really was just pretty boring (sorry fans!). Because this is about small town relations too, it is about people who aren't celebrities or supernatural creatures or dating supernatural creatures... and it hooked me from start to finish.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Jason M. Nice review, as always. You might be more likely to give it five stars if you look at it, as many have, as a sort-of novel structured around George Willard. Then the lesser parts would be just quieter moments of the whole. But I understand your choice.

Also nice to note, is that this book --in style and subject-- was a major influence on 20th century literature, including the work of Hemingway and Faulkner and countless others. Ray Bradbury even credits it as the influence for his "Martian Chronicles."

Amanda Right on Jason.

Shane Your observations are spot on. Short story collections run the risk of imbalance between stories. I have a new collection coming out and it also mixes genres: romance, magic realism, crime, suspense, erotica, and literary fiction, and I am wondering what reader reaction will be.

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