The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

First read: 9/2003
Reviewed on: 9/7/2003
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

I love Peter Bauland. He is a professor of film at the University of Michigan, who agrees with me about a certain genre of movie:

  1. It stars Tom Cruise
  2. The hero is shown, at first, to be a complete asshole
  3. Bad things happen to him because he is an asshole
  4. He continues to be an asshole
  5. Good things happen to him, and we are supposed to think it a "happy ending" because
  6. It stars Tom Cruise

I hate these movies, as does Dr. Bauland. I have no problem with Tom Cruise as a person, and he isn't a bad actor. But I just never liked these movies. For the same reason that I didn't like this book at first.

I didn't sympathize with the protagonist of The Magnificent Ambersons, and never rooted for him. The premise is fairly realistic, a person named George (named after an older relative, an influential politician) is born into a wealthy family and spoiled horribly. He is completely obnoxious, but is always forgiven because of his wealth and boyish charisma. People say he will have a "come-uppance" but he doesn't really - did I mention his wealth and boyish charisma? That's pretty much the first 5/6 of the book. It kept reminding me of another story, a true story, but I can't place it...

There is this woman, Lucy, who loves him, and who he loves, but she can't let herself marry him because he is a vapid sort of fellow with no true intellectual curiosity or work ethic. Lucy is actually pretty cool. In my reading of the book, the main source of suspense was my fear that she would marry George. "Don't marry him!" I mentally shouted at her. I will not spoil the book for you - you will have to read it for yourself to find out if Laura -oops- Lucy marries George.

So the story annoyed me, and I disliked the main characters, including George's mother, who was mostly responsible for George's attitudes. But the other story, the one behind the plot, did interest me. It was about change, how cities change, how fashion changes, how society changes. Due to the age of the book, there were some things the author made fun of that I had taken for granted. For example, the Ambersons have a Saint Bernard, so one of their contemporaries' daughters want one too. Her father consents, and then finds out "By gum! The Ambersons bought their dog, and you can't get one without paying for it!" How shocking, that someone would BUY a dog- usually you had to pay someone to drown your extras. Times have changed so much - I'm not going to tell you how much Mikumi cost me.

But the big thing was the automobile. That's where the book was most fascinating. The automobile changed the way that people viewed space, and the ones who avoided being "rolled over" by the resultant change in society were the ones who were able to anticipate it. Of course, I wasn't really reading "automobile" when they talked, I was thinking "internet." I average ten emails a week now from strangers who want to talk about books with me, to share reminiscences about things they thought of when they read stuff on my website, and (most often) to yell at me for not liking the Olive Garden. Many people more talented than I have written about how the internet has changed things, and so I won't bore you with my reciting of the clichés. At least not now. But I would add to the list of people who really conveyed the true sense of it Mr. Booth Tarkington, even though he thought he was writing about Automobiles.

Back to The whole list
Back to Main







hits since Sept 7, 2003