Audiobook Review: Babbitt

I received this book for free from Audies in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: BabbittBabbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Narrator: David Colacci
Length: 13 hrs, 52 mins
Published by Tantor Media on February 3, 2011
Genres: Classics
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audies
Goodreads
one-star

In this sardonic portrait of the up-and-coming middle class during the prosperous 1920s, Sinclair Lewis perfectly captures the sound, the feel, and the attitudes of the generation that created the cult of consumerism. With a sharp eye for detail and keen powers of observation, Lewis tracks successful realtor George Babbitt's daily struggles to rise to the top of his profession while maintaining his reputation as an upstanding family man.

On the surface, Babbitt appears to be the quintessential middle-class embodiment of conservative values and enthusiasm for the well-to-do lifestyle of the small entrepreneur. But beneath the complacent façade, he also experiences a rising, nameless discontent. These feelings eventually lead Babbitt into risky escapades that threaten his family and his standing in the community.

Though published eighty years ago, this acerbic depiction of majority Americans, obsessed with success, material comfort, and midlife doubt, still rings true.

That’s a summary of sorts, although I don’t think too much of it. For the most part, this is a book about an 48 year old grump’s midlife crisis. I hated every single minute of this story. George F. Babbitt struck me as wholly offensive and obnoxious from the very first and he only got worse. While I know, on one level, that this is probably to make a point, I cannot accept that he never gets a comeuppance for being an idiotic jerk. He constantly espouses viewpoints as his own, even though he’s simply repeating what he has heard or read in the newspaper.

Once again, I listened to an audiobook. It’s hard for me to say whether it was a good performance of the novel or not, since I so hated the novel itself. From the first, I really wanted to punch Colacci in the face to make him stop talking. His voice is grating and annoying. This inclines me to say that thus this is not a great audiobook, but, still, such a voice does fit perfectly with the truly awful people in the story. I do imagine that Babbitt sounds exactly like that.

A more fair criticism of the performance than my personally not liking the sound of Colacci’s voice is that it was often difficult to tell the characters apart. During conversations, I really could not follow who was speaking, unless there was some sort of note as to who said what. One conversation between Paul Riesling and Babbitt, for example, left me unsure as to whose wife was being annoying and who was praising whom. Surprisingly, though, this gruff-voiced man did a really good job with the female voices, although, again, they all sounded pretty similar. Of course, the women never really have a conversation, so that didn’t matter much.

Pretty much the only interesting thing in this novel is the setting (1920s), but I would recommend getting that from An American Tragedy instead, which has some really strange parallels. Babbitt is repetitive (he constantly mentions his desire to quit smoking and then forgets and then announces he’ll do it this time and then…) and obnoxious (Babbitt spends the first half of the novel being sanctimonious about things and behavior, then goes and does all those things and is sanctimonious about those that judge him for it). If that’s your thing, then go for it.

P.S. The joke’s on me, since I already own another book by Sinclair Lewis. The question is: will I read it or just sell it to a used book store now?

 

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