So if I were to tag things, this would go under my "Fill the cultural gaps" program I imposed on myself - meaning wanting to read at least some writers which Americans grew up with or had as required reading , or simply know well, and I had never heard of before I came to live to US some fifteen years ago.
I came to this one almost as a blank slate. I heard the title, I heard Edith Wharton's name, but I knew nothing, read no reviews, did not even know that the book won a Pulitzer in 1921.
I love classics as an umbrella term for lots of good books, but I certainly will not respect a book just because it is *considered* a classic. The writing in this book is *fantastic*. It is just so, I don't know, addictive I guess is the best word.
It describes the life of upper crust of New York society in 1870s - it does into a lot of details and really, the plot is not fast moving, but I absolutely was glued to the book. Talk about the power the pen of a good writer has.
Newland Archer, young attorney is engaged to a sweetheart May Welland, both are the members of upper class society, both lives are subject to everyday routine and many many rules and regulations of whats acceptable and what's not. What's acceptable and what not becomes especially clear as May's disgraced cousin Countess Olenska comes back from Europe pretty much running away from her jackass husband. Family may welcome her as a lost sheep, but they surely have many ideas of what she is supposed and not supposed to do.
Archer falls in love with Ellen, but he is engaged to May and the events unfold from there. Story of what society wants from you versus what you want to do and how conformism may cost you your soul? Oh I don't know - I wonder if I was supposed to feel bad for Archer and I was, but only a tiny tiny bit. I felt like he did not even *try* - if he loved that much, he should have had a little bit more courage than he did. And I am not talking from my twenty first century POW. Ellen felt like ten times braver to me and more decent and shoot poor May.
But you know, funny thing is I was not really emotionally attached to any of them. Sometimes when I review a bad m/m book (any bad book really), I would say that there is a brick wall between myself and the characters - like I do not get them, do not see them, cannot understand what the heck they are about. I understand these characters and I was definitely interested to see how the story unfolds, I just felt emotionally distant from them.
“It was the old New York way of taking life “without effusion of blood”: the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than “scenes” except the behavior of those who gave rise to them.
As these thoughts succeeded each other in his mind Archer felt like a prisoner in the center of the armed camp. He looked about the table, and guessed at the inexorableness of his captors from the tone in which, over the asparagus from Florida, they were dealing with Beaubort and his wife. “It’s to show me,” he thought, “what would happen to me-“ and a deathly sense of the superiority of implication and analogy over direct action, and of silence over rash words, closed on him like the doors of the family vault”.
Oh Archer. You did not even try. Forgive me for not being *too sad* now.