Monday, September 10, 2012

Book #7: So Big by Edna Ferber

Note: We are lagging behind on this challenge right now but we have awesome excuses. Maria caught the plague (or consumption or scarlet fever or something else equally nostalgic) and I gave birth to a human. Both have put us more than a bit out of sorts for the moment!!! But, we are back and will finish this challenge even if it kills us (and it just might...). 

As an entrepreneur, this book can best be described as "triggering." While some may prefer words like "inspirational" or "motivational" to define a book that compels them to action, I don't think those are aggressive enough to describe So Big. On the surface this book is about "The American Dream," but it is also about the root of that dream. Many people look at American industriousness and see only the entrepreneur's desire for great wealth. However, there is also the pure and simple drive to do something the right way. Until someone understands that, they will never successfully run a business on their own. It is very easy to become lackluster and complacent and lose grip of your success if the fear of failure isn't eating at you somewhere beneath the surface. The insanely strong female character in this book, Selina, was driven by that exact force.

There is so much to love about Selina. I absolutely adore how Ms. Ferber pieced together Selina's life for us from end to beginning to middle and then finally to the end. I really feel like we go to experience the full development of this girl turned woman and that a reader can truly say they completely understand her. Even though the namesake of the book is her son, Sobig, she is the true star. It is impossible to know and understand her son without first falling in love with his mother. And it is impossible to understand the people around her without seeing them from Selina's vantage point. To say that Ms. Ferder did an excellent job of creating Selina's world would be a ridiculous understatement. This was possibly one of the best written books I've ever read. Seriously. Not joking. Usually while I am reading a book, I'll send texts to myself so that I can remember quirky passages or interesting descriptions. At only 25 pages in, I realized that at this rate I was going to have to retype the entire book to properly capture it! In line after beautiful line, Ms. Ferber pieced together a very tactile and urgent late 1880s and 1890s Chicago and then moved flawlessly into the prairies south of the city through the turn of the century. Food, clothes, tasks, chores, jobs, lives, and dialects all came alive in a very natural way.

But beyond creating an interesting world, the woman can downright tell a great story. As I mentioned, the book wasn't entirely linear although it was for the most part. Sometimes she repeated scenes for emphasis and in doing so created a sense of panic or a feeling of "ah ha" when necessary. Usually flashbacks feel heavy handed when repeated later in a story but she managed to avoid that. There was the perfect amount of tension throughout the book that kept you wanting to read on but without giving you enough anxiety that you were able to easily guess the ending. Honestly, true to life, there was no true ending. Just a culmination of thoughts, warnings, ideas, and emotions that were always there but perhaps never quite realized.

I am sure at this point I'm not making a whole lot of sense but this is what happens when a book strangles your brain for the better part of a day. I started reading this book when I woke up and only took breaks to deal with the normal patterns of my housewife life. Even while scrambling eggs or changing a diaper, I found myself thinking through a character's actions and wondering how they might have reacted differently had xyz happened instead of abc. I'm not accustomed to books taking over my thoughts like that but it is a sign of a good one.

It is really sad that this book is no longer a part of high school reading lists. An afterward in the edition Maria loaned me said that the book and author's commercial success made intellectuals turn away from it in later years. As a result, I had a hard time even tracking down a copy to read for this challenge! I'd easily put it up there against other classics like The Great Gatsby and plan to force this book onto as many people as I can in the hopes that it will come back into fashion and favor.

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