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I recorded a couple of chapters of this, so was quite keen to hear the rest of it when it was finished. I was very impressed with what I had read, and was even more impressed with the whole thing.
This is a novel, in that there are some connecting characters, but really, its a collection of short stories. They all concern themselves with the life or history of one resident of the fictional town in the title, each of whom has his or her internal life revealed in merciless detail.
Each character seems to be trying to say something, striving to find the words to express their experience of life, or their love, or to connect with another person, but is always unable to make him or herself understood. And this isolation makes the words and deeds of the characters seem strange and eccentric. They all live in a small community, the rural sort which is often presented to us as an ideal, and which all the sane ones seem to want to leave.
This is not the point, though. The author himself is telling us that he is one of the people who cannot quite find a way to express exactly what he means. The stories rise up gently and then fall away, unresolved, often with a melancholy air - they seem to be leading somewhere, but ultimately we are left with more questions than answers, with suggestions of the great sadness that lives just below the surface of so many lives that seem to us so unremarkable,
The only false note in the work, for me, is the long central story 'Godliness', where the author seems to be trying too hard to point a moral. But even here, his skill makes every line worth savouring. William Faulkner seems to have borrowed his technique of defining things in terms of what they are not - a wonderful way of suggesting without stating. Anderson's style is much more spare though. At times he reminded me of Samuel Beckett.
I had never heard of Sherwood Anderson before, but am delighted to have found him. I will certainly be reading more. If my review makes you wonder whether he is your cup of tea, may I recommend that you start with the chapter called 'Tandy', which, in its few paragraphs, will tell you all you need to know.
Next: Daisy Miller by Henry James