Saturday, February 27, 2010


American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser published in 1925

Oh, Clyde, what did you do?
If you’re familiar with Theodore Dreiser’s work (Sister Carrie), you may have noticed the foreboding, lurking menace that follows around his characters.  Dreiser‘s novels necessitate  peeking through your fingers while reading; you just know it isn’t going to end well. That being said, tragedy sometimes being clich├ęd and predictable, Dreiser’s stories are very real, almost inspired from news paper articles that give us that lil’  spark….”this would make a good book!”
American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, a wretched young man who from an early age is  schlepped around by his destitute missionary parents to sing and preach  on the street corners of Kansas City.  These  experiences  inspire Clyde to desire a different life and to visions of grandeur that eventually lead to his demise.
As soon as age allows, Clyde escapes the life of religious servitude and becomes a bell-hop at the Green-Davidson, a swanky hotel in Kansas City. As one can surmise, Clyde swan dives into debauchery with his new found freedom, gets drunk, gets laid, chases girls and gets into a serious scrape that requires his leaving Kansas City amid scandal.

After drifting for a couple of years, Clyde finds himself employed at another hotel where he inadvertently meets his wealthy Uncle.  Wealthy Uncle listens to Clyde’s woes and makes provisions for him to move to Lycurgus, New York to be employed at his collar factory. But, alas this is no free ride and upon arrival Clyde is met by his anal cousin Gilbert Griffiths (who incidentally Clyde resembles to a disturbing degree … but of course better looking) who puts Clyde to work at the bottom.  Eventually Clyde crawls out of the basement and is given a department to run.  Here enters poor, sweet, never been kissed, bound for tragedy Roberta Alden who is caught in a magnetic maelstrom with her immediate supervisor Clyde Griffiths.  Needless to say, this is a huge factory/family NO! NO! So, the clandestine lovers meet on the sly and eventually get horizontal despite Roberta’s best efforts to stay upright. The two are genuinely in love, but Clyde’s monster social ladder appetite leads him to Queen Bee Sondra Finchley. 
Now at this juncture, even if not familiar with this novel or “A Place In The Sun”….the foreboding starts to creep in, does it not?  Oh Gee, what’s going to happen to poor ol’ down trodden Roberta? Breaking up would just be too simple because…..yup, she’s pregnant! And going further into the story (if you haven’t read it) would ruin the whole ending….but keep in mind, the novel is entitled “American Tragedy”.

Coincidentally, it is Turner Classic Movie Oscar month and “A Place In The Sun” was featured about a week ago (when I was ¾ of the way through this almost 900 page leviathan).  I had seen it years back and am a Montgomery Clift fan (Clift being Clyde) so I decided since I had already seen the film I wouldn’t be ruining the ending.  However, “A Place In The Sun” (also starring Shelly Winters and Elizabeth Taylor) is an adaptation by Patrick Kearney which came out in 1951, while the novel was set in the 1920s. Besides the basic premise of “troubled poor boy meets troubled poor girl, becomes successful and overreaches which ends in tragedy” , I found the movie and the book to have distinctly different flavors, to me it just isn’t the same story at all.  The biggest discrepancy being the character of Roberta Alden, who in the book is a fully developed central character.  In the movie, she is reduced to a sniveling, fleshy,  simple pilot fish. So, I ended up shutting the movie off when Clift and Winters were in the canoe, knowing the forgone conclusion.
The other aspect of this book was… “hmmm, what kind of lessons can be taken away from this tragedy?”
  • Don’t raise your children in a religious militant fashion because they’ll turn into heathens.
  • If you ever meet a wayward poor relative, whatever you do, don’t extend a helping hand. Your name will be disgraced and you’ll have to leave town.
  • Avoid office romances with your superior or prepare to grow gills
  • Use reliable birth control (always a sound move)
  • If you are poor and uneducated, stay that way, striving for something else is just going land you in hot water
  • If your relationship is on the rocks, avoid canoes and romantic lake trips
Hmmmm, not sure. I don’t think there are any lessons. That is part of the attraction of this novel.  It is extremely contemporary and if you turn on CNN there is probably something similar airing right now.  I can hear Nancy Grace berating Clyde Griffiths and recapping the details ad-nauseam.

Lastly, I love recasting movies, so for the new release of “American Tragedy” Clyde is Christian Bale, Roberta Alden is Rachel McAdams (Not a Shelly Winters type….total miscast), and Sondra is Scarlett Johansson (or Megan Fox would be a dead ringer, but I have no idea if she can act or not…????) Anyway, that’s my vote. What’s yours???

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I hate to admit it (Hi, I'm Kris. I'm a book abuser. I abused my last book this morning!) but I am seriously rough on the books I read. When I'm done with them, no one else wants them with all the underlines, dog ears, and coffee stains (amongst other things).  But that is how I enjoy reading, who can resist not underlining a really superb snappy comeback (Vonnegut) or a character description that is so effective you immediately say, Ahhh yes, I know that guy (Dreiser)!  Or, just the beautiful way words are weaved together to create poetry or a fresh interpretation (Nobotov).  
I take notes in the margins, shove my books in my purse and cram them into laundry bags. It would be interesting to interview a book that has to travel around with me until completion. The book could review me maybe. 

Here we have the book "American Tragedy", who prefers to be called A.T.  
Interviewer: So A.T. what was it like to be read by Kris Daniel?
A.T.: I feel violated for one and am now in therapy. I don't think when Mr. Dreiser poured years of his talent into me he pictured my being used as a coaster by said person's coffee mug! 
Interviewer: So it sounds like you're a little irritated, would that be a correct assessment?
A.T.: I moved past irritated the day I was thrown into a dirty clothes basket so Ms Thang could take me to the laundry mat and pass the time crinkling up my pages while she was eating a strawberry danish. But I confess the danish was light and fluffy with a tangy strawberry filling. There is still some left on page 87 if you want to give it a try.
Interviewer: No I think I'm good, but thank you. What are your hopes for the future A.T.? 
A.T.: Well I just hope I get placed in better hands next time but let's face it I'm all tatooed up and my back cover fell off. People cross the street when they see me. Although, I do have some good things going. I've started a group for abused books which is very rewarding.  
Interviewer: So, it sounds like you have turned a negative into a positive.
A.T.: Yes, and we also are insisting that all new books be printed with a warning label so as not to find themselves in the hands of such readers.
Interviewer: Thank you very much Mr. American Tragedy for sharing your story with us today.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Back in October of 2009 I put forth the question to book bloggers, "What is the worst book you've ever read?"   And, recently (December) an article came out in the Wallstreet Journal by Alexandra Alter reviewing a list of "Worst Books". (visit link to article)  To my surprise, Ms. Alter actually contacted me for an interview about why I raised the question.

I write about books for the Wall Street Journal and am putting together a story about some of the "worst books" lists coming out. I saw a thread on books blogs by Kristina Daniels, who asked "What is the Absolutely Worst Book You've Ever Read?" and I hoped to interview her about why she raised the question and whether the responses surprised her.

I can be reached at the number below, or if you prefer, you can email me your contact information and a convenient time to call.

Thanks very much,

Alexandra Alter
The Wall Street Journal
1211 Avenue of the Americas, 4th floor
New York, NY 10036
Story of my life, I just got the email and think it is too late to participate in the reviews, but here are some of the books avid readers contributed:
Twilight (by far the most reported "worst book")
The Secret
Catcher In The Rye
Vampire Diaries
Gulliver's Travels
Time Travelor's Wife
Digital Fortress
Blonde Roots
Citizen Girl
The Gargoyle
The Life of Pi
The Polished Hoe
The God Whale
Passage To India
Ethan Frome
Women About Town
A Partisan's Daughter
Julia's Chocolate
and readers also responded with disliked authors and genres: Patterson, V.C. Andrews, Self Help Books
(to see more visit link above)
I guess I posed the question because I'm reading the top 100 books and wanted to investigate how many responses would include novels from that list. Random House.  
For those of you that read my blog enteries on living through "Ulysses" (see archives), or have struggled through a monolith yourselves, the question "Worst Book?" is something readers like to share. Let's face it, we are more likely to respond to something we disliked than something we loved.....i.e. people will share a bad restaurant with more people than a good one.....or something like that. So book bloggers, What bad books have you read lately?