I'm about 2/3 of the way through Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" and I have to say this book is scaring the living hell out of me. Not only is it depressing, and seems like it will clearly not end well, but the problems the characters face seem eerily relevant to today's harsh economic climate. Allow me to explain...
The novel opens with Carrie Meeber, an 18 year old from some hick town in Minnesota or some such place, boarding a train to seek her fortune in Chicago. The eternal lure of the big city has captivated her and she's off to live with her older sister and her husband, find a job, and live the life that we have all enjoyed watching on "Sex and the City". Well, as it turns out, the 1889 version of "Sex and the City" features single women working in sweatshops and not having any money to hang out with friends and drink cosmopolitans, which is just as well because they won't be invented for another 100 years. Oh, and the sister and her husband are poor themselves, never go out because they have no money, and just want to use Carrie as a source of rent, which she must pay out of the meager wages she receives, leaving her with almost nothing. Fortunately for Carrie she was totally hit on by a traveling salesman who sat next to her on the train to Chicago. The salesman, Charlie Drouet, meets up with Carrie in Chicago. When she tells him she's leaving Chicago to go back home because she can't stand living at her sister's place and because she lost her job in the sweatshop because she got sick and couldn't work for a few days he tells her "No problem, I'll put you up in an apartment and you can be my mistress...um, I mean fiance". Carrie thinks about this for about 3 seconds and then accepts the offer, although to her credit she feels a bit guilty...at first. But then Drouet puts her up in an apartment, and buys her nice clothes and all kinds of bling and she's like "Oh yeah, bring it on Mr. Salesman. When are we getting married?"
Drouet soon moves in with her and promises her they'll get married as soon as this big business deal he's working on comes through, but deep down she knows that's not likely, and besides she's just not all that into him. But she's definitely into the things he can buy for her. In fact, a big theme of the book seems to be economics and material consumption. Carrie would fit right in in the early 21st century shopping malls of California. She loves clothes, and material things, and the latest fashions, and wants them all. Drouet buys her some things, and she's grateful for that, but she clearly wants more. Well, don't we all. Welcome to America.
Then Drouet introduces Carrie to his buddy Hurstwood who manages an upscale bar. Hurstwood's a stout man in his early 40s who's well-dressed and very sociable, which he needs to be for his job. Hurstwood is totally smitten by Carrie, and when he learns that she's not married to Drouet he decides to go for it. So he starts hanging out with Carrie when Drouet is out of town on sales calls. He soon tells Carrie he loves her and wants to marry her, but she says she'll have to think about it because even though she doesn't love Drouet, he's been awfully nice to her and has put her up in an apartment and she hasn't had to hit the sweatshops anymore, etc. What Hurstwood hasn't told Carrie is that he's already married. Oh yeah, he's a scumbag alright. Unfortunately for him, his wife soon figures out that he's seeing someone on the side, and she tells him she's getting divorced and is taking everything. D'OH! Meanwhile Drouet also gets wind of their romance and confronts Carrie, who admits it. Drouet tells her Hurstwood is married, and she is totally pissed off...in fact, she's more upset over that than by the fight she's having with Drouet. Drouet storms out, although he'd like to make up with her. Carrie doesn't know what to do, and neither does Hurstwood. But then Hurstwood gets an opportunity one night when the safe in the bar gets left unlocked, and he finds $10,000 dollars inside. He pulls it out an stares at it, and wonders if he should take it or not...when suddenly the safe door locks itself, and he's holding the money! Damn, I hate it when that happens. So he puts the money in his bag and runs off.
Hurstwood goes to Carrie, who tells him to fuck off, but he says "No, you gotta come with me, Drouet is hurt and in the hospital". Carries is freaked out and goes with him to the train station, but when she slowly realizes they're on a train to Detroit and not the hospital she gets suspicious, and he admits that he lied and that he and his wife broke up and he wants to run away with her. Oh man is she pissed, but she goes along with Hurstwood. They go to Montreal, where a detective corners Hurstwood and says that while he can't be arrested in Canada, the detective will ruin his reputation and make his life a living hell. So Hurstwood writes the bar owner from whom he stole the money, apologizes, and sends the money back. All is forgiven, except that Hurstwood now only has $1000 to his name. He and Carrie decide to go to New York City to live. Hurstwood buys part ownership in a bar, and all goes well for awhile, even though the bar is not up to the standards of the one he managed in Chicago. Poor Hurstwood is now a small fish in a big pond, but still he manages to scrape by. But then some new neighbors move into the flat next door and Carrie befriends the wife. Seems the new people have lots of money, and the wife tells Carrie that she needs to buy all the latest fashions and Carrie is like totally into that. Hurstwood is not, but he puts up with it until his bar loses his lease and he's forced out, meaning he's lost his source of income. So Carrie has to stop buying new cloths and they have to move downtown to a cheaper apartment.
Hurstwood begins to look for work, but it looks bleak. And this is the part that just kills me. Dreiser keeps going on and on about how Hurstwood is totally over the hill, and no one wants to hire him because he's too old, and he's in all this pain because he has to walk all day looking for a job and his aged body can't take it...and he's 42 YEARS OLD! That's younger than me. Let me repeat that...he's YOUNGER than me. Well, fuck you Dreiser. That cocksucker was 29 when he wrote this book. And look what he wrote: Hurstwood is totally fucked and he's younger than me. So what happens if I, the middle-aged scientist/musician, lose my job in this economy? It looks like the tenements of New York will be my fate, and a slow downward spiral, according to the famous writer Theodore Dreiser. Yeah, fuck you, Dreiser. I suppose things could look up in this book, as I haven't finished the novel yet, but Dreiser is painting a bleak picture and somehow I think this whole thing will end horribly. Just what I frickin' need. Sigh. Where's my martini? Hey, bartender, the old blogger guy needs his martini!! Quick, before he dies!