3 stars - worth reading
1923 Pulitzer Prize
I'm not sure whether I liked this book or not.
Since I knew I was going to read it as part of my Pulitzer Prize journey, I dove in without subjecting myself to any hint as to its contents.
After recently reading several books set in New York City, I was pleased that the action in this novel takes place (at least in the first half) on a farm in Nebraska. The entire book focuses on just a few years immediately before and during World War I.
The main character is Claude Wheeler, a young man in his early 20's (a time of life that seems to be the focus of most of the early Pulitzer winners).
One of the distracting things about the writing is that even though the majority of the action is centered around Claude, I never felt that I had a real connection to what he was thinking and how he was motivated. The writing was in the third person which allowed the author to have a few brief scenes without the main character, but I found these odd and frustrating as they were not used to develop any of the minor players beyond stiff cut-outs. Perhaps that was by design as young adulthood is certainly a self absorbed age.
For the first half of the book, one observes Claude as his world folds in around him and he reluctantly picks up the lifestyle of farming which seems his destiny.
Then World War I happens. Claude sees a means of escape from the shackles of farming and an unfortunate marriage and enlists.
Now things get very odd. Because as much as I drifted around the perimeter of true engagement with the book during the first half, I found myself flung almost completely out of it during the second half. I was thinking, "Well, what the heck is going on here?"
No, it wasn't that the writing style was jumbled and the descriptions of scenes remained sound, but I was all at sixes and sevens trying to latch back on to the story. Maybe that was the intent of the author. Who knows?
As a side note, the edition I obtained from the library was a pristine paperback. Nary a coffee stain, bent page, or crack in the spine. In fact the library stamp indicated that it had been purchased by the library friends in February of this year. I assume from all of those clues that it was on some reading list someplace and library was stocking up because all of the prior Pulitzers I have read have arrived with the wonderful worn smell and softened pages of books that have journeyed through many hands.
At least the next borrower will know that somebody read the book. I am returning it with some chicken parmesan stains on page 214, a dented spine, and stray dog hairs nestled in the binding.