Sentimentality Sinks Ann Vickers 

Ann Vickers is Sinclair Lewis’s  fictional exposé of the  American prison system of the 1920s, a system riddled with corruption, brutality, and stupidity.

Ann Vickers is a bright, bossy child who grows up to be a bright, bossy woman. After college she stuffs envelopes for the women’s suffrage movement. An unfortunate mistake lands her in jail and sets her on a career in prison administration and penal reform.

While Ann’s professional career prospers, her personal life stagnates. She can’t find a man that meets her standards. Her first love affair ends in the abortion of a child whose loss she mourns the rest of her life.

Recoiling from the desertion of a male friend she would gladly have married, Ann marries a fellow social worker only to discover he has all the male flaws she despises. She turns from him to a sexy judge, standing by him even when he’s found guilty of corruption and sentenced to five years in prison.

Lewis skips lightly over Ann’s idiotic behavior, reserving his barbs for the world that birthed people who would make his heroine unhappy. That sloppy sentimentality keeps Ann Vickers from being a great novel or great social criticism.

Ann Vickers
By Sinclair Lewis
Doubleday, Doran, 1933
562 pages
My grade B-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Escape Is Impossible to Put Down

In the opening scene of Escape, a doctor tells actress Emmy Ritter she’ll be able to walk in a week.

“Just in time for my execution,” she replies.

Ethel Vance  hooked me with that line, and she didn’t let go until I’d read the rest of her novel that evening.

Authorities refuse to allow Emmy’s son, Mark, to see her.

However, the sympathetic doctor fakes Emmy’s death, falsifies the death certificate, and releases the body to Mark and the Ritter’s faithful servant, Fritz, telling them Emmy must be kept warm or she will die.

Keeping her warm in an unheated truck in winter is a problem. Mark pushes the problem on his only other local acquaintance, a Countess reduced to running an upscale girls’ boarding school.

Mark doesn’t know the Countess’ lover is the man responsible for catching escaped prisoners, so he doesn’t worry about the girls’ chatter. Readers, like me, will bite their nails.

Vance is masterful at sustaining suspense. But it’s not just the wonderful storytelling that kept my attention.

Vance also explores various facets of love, from sexual passion to filial love, to a longstanding employer-employee relationship. Under her careful scrutiny, no relationship is quite as simple as it appears on the surface.

Escape
By Ethel Vance
Little, Brown
428 pages
1939 bestseller # 5
My Grade: A-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni