Alice Adams lives with her bickering parents and slouching younger brother, Walter, in a begrimed house in an industrial American city at the end of World War I.
Alice is unhappily unmarried.
Alice’s attempts to set local fashions draws ridicule from girls with money and social standing.
Mrs. Adams is constantly nagging her husband about not providing the children with the advantages money can buy.
When Arthur Russell comes to town, Alice thinks he’s her last chance to make something of herself.
Mrs. Adams finally convinces her husband that the only chance Alice has of happiness is for him to lay aside his scruples, quit his job at Lamb and Company, and start a plant to manufacture glue using a process Mr. Lamb had paid him to develop years before.
When it comes out that Walter has been embezzling at work, the family’s hopes of upward mobility are crushed forever.
Mr. and Mrs. Adams are vivid characters, and Booth Tarkington makes Alice and Walter very believable young adults trapped in adolescence.
It’s easy to see where Alice get’s her petulance and drama, where Walter gets his refusal to face facts.
Like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Tarkington’s Alice Adams shows the effects of on the children of a silly mother mated to a husband without the moral fiber to counterbalance his wife’s bad influence.
Alice Adams ends on an upbeat note, but that note isn’t strong enough to overcome the impression that Alice will never get a husband and never be satisfied either without one or with one.
Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington, Grosset & Dunlap, 1921. 434 pp.
This review is one of the Great Penformances’ occasional reviews of influential novels that didn’t make the bestseller list. Although Alice Adams was not a bestseller for the prolific Booth Tarkington, he won his second Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Alice Adams. His first, in 1919, was for The Magnificent Ambersons.
©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni