It saddens me to say that I was, once again, disappointed with an admired author’s work. Poor White felt like it was trying much too hard to be a work of historical fiction, and in doing so, had this reader losing interest. I have read many great books within this category, however, this was not one of them.
Anderson’s commentary on the burgeoning Industrial Revolution during the early 20th century reads at times like a scholarly work, rather than a piece of fiction, and has an academically dry tone.
Born in 1866, Hugh McVey lives with his widowed drunkard of a father who leaves his young son without food or shelter while he disappears on drinking sprees. Hugh longs for human connection, but seems destined to live without it. He is taken in by a family for a few years who provide some education and stability, but they relocate and inexplicably, do not ask him to join them. With no expectation of success, the 6′ 4″ loner ventures forth and somehow manages to become a successful inventor of agricultural machines. This was a character I wanted to cheer for, but just didn’t care about in the end.
The woman who takes Hugh into her home, Sara Shepard, is taciturn and shows little affection towards Hugh although she cares for him deeply. She puts all her efforts into educating him and plans daily lessons for him that prove successful. When she and her husband decide to move, they leave abruptly and for some obscure reason, no invitations is extended to Hugh.
Clara Butterworth, another unsympathetic character, was the suffragette figure. Oppressed and reviled by her widowed father, she is sent off to college, not for an education, but for a prospective spouse and to take her away from her father’s home. Sure wish I could have something positive to say with regards to this character, but words fail me.
All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding they themselves have built, and most men die in silence and unnoticed behind the walls.
No discussion around Poor White would enter my conversation with Mr. Anderson and I would intentionally focus on Winesburg, Ohio. We could sip Martinis sans the speared olive and perhaps he’d share his methodology or some other significant writing tips.
My rating for Poor White is a 6 out of 10.
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