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Reviews

What We Are Reading: October 2021

Although H. L. Mencken could discern “no plot whatever” in Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt, he still praised the novel as “a social document of a high order.” The 1922 classic mordantly sketches a bygone America and the paladins who made it run. Even today, the title character’s surname still mocks guileless Americans who conform unthinkingly to middle-class standards.

George Babbitt sells real estate in Zenith, a fictional stand-in for the likes of Cincinnati or Omaha. He first extols Zenith as “the finest example of American life and prosperity to be found anywhere,” then grows disenchanted, and his subsequent midlife crisis provides ammunition for today’s elitists to sneer at Flyover America’s erstwhile local aristocracies.

It’s time to expunge the insult “Babbitt” from the dictionary, as it no longer describes any recognizable Americans. I imagine the Cancel Cabal is already working on it. Babbitt mocks blacks, Jews, Irish, Chinese, Italians, and probably a few others. Immune to the nascent “if it feels good do it” culture surrounding him, Babbitt priggishly scolds a close friend for cheating on his wife. Getting all puritanical, he dreads the corrosive effect...

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