As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.
Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.
The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.
His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.
Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.
The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.
The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.
The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.
Main Street, Sinclair Lewis’ 1921 bestseller, is a scathing indictment of small town life circa 1920 as revealed through a fictitious Minnesota town.
After college, Carol Milford becomes a librarian. Library work suits her and Minneapolis offers culture and intellectual stimulation.
At a party she meets Dr. Will Kennicott. She likes him, though she finds his preoccupation with making money distasteful. She decides she loves him when he shows her photos of Gopher Prairie: it needs someone with her taste and refinement.
Gopher Prairie, however, does not feel the need to be improved by Doc Kennicott’s bride. Carol finds, “the people are savorless and proud of it.”
Carol is devoid of emotional intelligence and not nearly as intelligent in other ways as she believes herself to be. With little to occupy her time, Carol is frustrated and unhappy. She would have an affair but the available men are unsatisfactory.
Lewis is superb at excoriating dull people. The book’s fatal flaw is that he can provide no reason for the pervasive intellectual dulness. Without an identified cause, there’s no hope for a solution.
After a 425-page collection of nasty barbs, Lewis shuts down the novel with an unpredictable and implausible ending.
By Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1920
My grade B-