If you have never heard of Sinclair Lewis before, you can think of him as F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s counterpart. He also published during the ‘roaring twenties,’ but wrote of many different classes of people. It seems he especially liked yoking together characters from high society and low society, to see how they get along. This yoking together is exactly what he does in Free Air (April 1922), the seventh of twenty-six novels he has written.
Similar to what we envision of the 1920’s, Lewis’ prose comes across as high and fast. The high part revealing the lofty and romantic language he uses throughout the novel (taken from the upper class); the fast part is revealed in long run-on sentences that the characters speak and seems to work particularly well in this time period.
Before I continue with my review of Free Air, I want to note that in 1930 Lewis won the Nobel Prize for literature and as a prize recipient, was required to write a short autobiography on his career so far. I strongly recommend anyone considering being an author (or currently in the struggles of becoming one) take a peak (you will also notice his ‘high and fast’ language here). My favorite quote from this autobiography comes at the very end where he reveals his ever-present satire: “I am settled down to what I hope to be the beginning of a novelist’s career. I hope the awkward apprenticeship with all its errors is nearly done.” Only after writing 14 novels and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, does he finally allow himself to truely ‘begin’ his career as a novelist.
Free Air can be summed up as a book about the great American road trip. Claire Boltwood and takes her father Mr. Boltwood on a cross country car trip from New York city all the way to Seattle, WA. Although Claire describes their financial situation to be mediocre, I found out that they really are a part of the elite New York society that was akin to British royalty in the 1920’s. The road trip is full of humor and character building crisis’ for Claire (the modern reader will find the description of the roads very insightful due to their practical non-existence; all back country road, mud and the occasional small town). And it is in one of the first small city stops that they make do they run into Milt Daggett, the owner of the local car shop. At first sight, Daggett falls for Claire and what will only sound as creepy in this summary, decides then and there to follow her and her father all the way to Seattle. Stalker? Knight in shining armor? That is what I will leave for you to find out if you read Free Air.
This book was popular enough on its publication to have been made into a silent film in 1922, starring Tom Douglas as Milt Daggett and Marjorie Seaman as Claire Boltwood.