This is one of the most depressing books I've read in quite awhile, maybe ever. All the characters, save for one or two, are lonely, isolated, odd, misunderstood, unhappy...or, more usually, a combination of two or more from this list. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The writing is very realistic, thoughtful, beautiful. I've never read any Sherwood Anderson before, but I'd like to read some more. He really gets inside the characters, yet continually leaves them understated. And the sparseness of his writing style lends itself beautifully to the sense of isolation and alienation that envelopes the characters. Its sad and poignant, but in a subtle understated way, never even remotely over the top.
It's interesting to think about "Winesburg, Ohio" in relation to two other books I've read for this project so far: Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street" and Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel". "Main Street" also deals with the isolation of living in a small, rural town in the early 1900s, but here the loneliness is most prominent in the town's newcomer...the townspeople themselves don't have the solitude of the characters in Winesburg. And in "Winesburg, Ohio" we observe the one character that returns in most of the stories, George Willard, grow up and become a man, and eventually leave the confines of the town for the larger world, with a sense that he will not be returning. This is similar to Eugene Gant's story in "Look Homeward, Angel", although the latter book has more of a southern gothic twinge running through it.
Would the characters in Winesburg exist in today's world? Would they all be online, but as isolated as ever? Or would they all be on Prozac, in therapy, and surrounded by self-help books? And if so, would any of that help? Or is it all just wallpaper, thinly applied to cover up the barren walls of the human condition. "We live as we dream, alone" wrote the Gang of Four. Sherwood Anderson would agree.
Read this book. It's great!