Wide is the Gate, by Upton Sinclair

February 22, 2012 at 19:50 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction, Literature, War and Politics) (, , , )

9/10

As one six-hundred-page volume in a ten-volume series, it is unreasonable to expect this book to be either fast-paced or action-filled. One of the most instantly noticeable things about it, then, is that by around the two-hundred-page mark, the snail pace does markedly pick up, and there are several briefer adventures amidst the endless politicking and banter that might have otherwise been expanded to full book length stories in their own right (Lanny Budd’s adventure in wartime Spain is nothing short of thrilling, and equals anything Hemingway or Fleming might write about martial high-jinks).

“Look at Ramsay MacDonald, look at boondoggling and the N.R.A. and the other messes of the New Deal! Look at what happened in Spain in the last four or five years!”

-Wide is the Gate

Sinclair has a lot to say, and he takes his time over it, which is perhaps his saving grace. His capitalist characters are greedy or ignorant, his fascists are memorable monsters and his socialists are brave-hearted rogues. If he plastered these definitions all over his book in three hundred pages, it would all be very dreary and impossible to bear, but he does take time to flesh his creations out before stuffing his thoughts into their mouths. He spreads a very thick message very thinly throughout an awful lot of absolutely terrific prose, and turns a lengthy sermon into an even lengthier piece of excellent literature.

“The green was beginning to fade from the landscapes, and a soft drizzling rain veiled every scene, making it look like an old painting whose varnish had turned brown.”

-Wide is the Gate

It is easy to see Sinclair himself as the tired and jaded socialist spiritualist living vicariously through Lanny Budd. The heroes of this book are equal parts evangelist and prophet of doom. It was written, by the way, in 1943, when the future of the Nazi government and the Allied opposition to it were far from settled. This mixture of heady fanatical optimism and grim pessimism ends up creating something of a perfect storm in terms of accutely believable (if occasionally fantastical) characters, and goes a great way towards offsetting the overt political messages pinned to every page. Due to its length (maybe some five thousand pages of Lanny Budd, if the rest of the story is taken into account) this book is an intimidating commitment to make: but very worth it. A lost gem from a seminal author, and deserving of higher praises in the pantheon of great literature.

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2 Comments

  1. James Stephen Courts said,

    Absolutely fabulously written series. I have read each book and some several times. If I had more time I would read each one again. I loved the series so much, I forked out thousands of dollars to have the entire series reprinted in beautiful hardbound crimson. My website is http://www.uptonsinclairinstitute.com. You can buy the series with up to 30% off the amazon.com price with free shipping. We also now accept all major credit cards and debit cards. Thanks, Stephen Courts

  2. J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

    It is an honourable pursuit indeed to bring some of these old (and tragically, forgotten) classics back to life. Judging by the pains you have gone to, I hardly think I need ask you if tracking down and reading this series is worth the effort!

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