Sinclair Lewis' ferocious 1927 satire, "Elmer Gantry", traces the career of a young man who is sent to a theological seminary by his pious mother but initially has no interest in becoming a minister. Indeed, his reputation for drinking and carousing with women is so notorious he earns the nickname "Hellcat". But from the book's opening scenes in 1905 to his ascension to the position of a famous moralizing evangelist 20 years later, Gantry never really repents of his ways (though he does stop drinking); he merely finds ways to ingratiate himself with the rich and powerful so that his misdeeds, many of them egregious, never become known. This book reminded me of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men", which is about an equally ruthless and ambitious man, but Penn Warren was writing about a politician rather than a preacher. "Elmer Gantry" is an excellent portrait of the unchecked rise of a glib sociopath to the position of moral leader of a nation despite his private hypocrisy. Sound familiar? The Blackstone Audio reading is excellent, but I found the novel itself to be a bit slow and meandering in its pace. Lewis misses an excellent opportunity to make the book a more dramatic portrait of Gantry alone by not ending the story around the time when Gantry's secret love affair with a famous female evangelist comes to a dramatic and fiery end. Had Lewis chosen to focus more exclusively on Gantry, instead of bringing in scenes of other more honest ministers wrestling with their faiths, and ended it at that climactic moment, this book could have been a character portrait as magnificent as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby". But instead, it launches into a lengthy second section which recounts Gantry's career as a Methodist minister, and this is where some people may find the book becoming overlong and heavy-handed. Overall, though, this book is a classic of its kind.
I wish all books could be written this well. The character development was absolutely amazing. Elmer Gantry was lovable and dreadful all at the same time. I want a sequel only to know him again. He was so well developed. So clear and real. The use of language was well thought out, intentional, meaningful, enticing and entertaining. Sinclair Lewis reminds me of John Steinbeck in his clarity. My only complaint -- and I fear this is because I am a child of TV/video games/movies, etc -- is the story was not captivating. Elmer WAS captivating and his character (and the voice of the reader) really carried me through the entire book. The story itself was plain. But it didn't seem to matter much as Elmer and the reader made up for that. I loved it. I would definitely recommend it. I wish all books were written with this much detail, clarity and care. This is a work of art. Not some silly "journal -entry-stream-of-consciousness" garbage that happened to sell a million copies because everyone reads while their on their treadmills and talking on their blackberry.
Sinclair Lewis' fantastic drama of an religious anti-hero is super relevant today. He's such a despicable and appealing character, brought to life by the fabulous narration. I loved every minute of it.
The fictional Elmer Gantry rises to prominence before the era of radio and TV evangelism, but his greed, selfishness, and sexual indiscretions are just like those of some real-life preachers we all know.
Elmer Gantry follows the protagonist from his beginnings as an irreverent student at a religious university who's browbeaten into being "saved" by another traveling preacher who turns out to be a cynical fraud himself. But Elmer is set out on his path, and goes to seminary to become a Baptist preacher. After getting caught with one of his flock, he's kicked out by the Baptists. He becomes assistant (and lover) to a crazy woman evangelist named Sharon Falconer, who on the one hand is as phony as he is, and on the other seems to really believe every bit of nonsense she spouts. Her character was quite interesting; today we'd probably call her bipolar, and she seems to be the one woman Elmer truly loves, as he remembers her for the rest of his life, even when he moves on to bigger and better venues after losing her.
This was a great story for its study of hypocrisy and very cynical and realistic examination of religion in America. (Sinclair did his homework, sitting in on a lot of church services to write this.) It's not exactly an indictment of Christianity and shouldn't be taken that way -- the novel doesn't take a stand on the rightness or wrongness of any particular religious beliefs, only on the all-too-realistic behavior of the clergy and parishioners. Sinclair writes a straightforward story with lots of minor characters, each of them very human and flawed and interesting. By the end of the book, you're really, really hoping that Elmer Gantry will finally get his comeuppance, but despite many close calls and setbacks over the course of his career, Gantry is like an eel who always seems to wriggle his way out of the worst of his difficulties.
Not for die-hard Christians that do not want to hear that the bible has inconsistencies or that their church leaders may be less than holy. But I certainly found the story interesting and some of the ideas fascinating.