Elmer Gantry

~by Sinclair Lewis

Elmer Gantry is such a cad.

The eponymous character of this religious satire, he's really not that likable. Charismatic, certainly, but not endearing in any sort of way. One of the star athletes of Terwillinger College, he is in love with himself and his own voice. An obvious choice for him is to become a Baptist preacher--to save people's souls, of course! It has nothing to do with the power or prestige that comes along with it, not at all. He has a talent of getting himself into (and out of) touchy circumstances, little worse for the wear. The story follows the young man as he attends seminary and his various postings and resulting scandals. Throughout the book, these situations get fairly nasty (at least for others if not for Elmer)--it was like watching something horrible and not being able to look away. Oh, Elmer.

Even though the novel was originally published in 1927, its still surprisingly relevant if not as scandalous as when it was first written. Having been raised Baptist in the Midwest (albeit, not in the early 1900s), it was interesting how much I was able to recognize and how much I able to identify with many of Lewis's sentiments in the book. Although much of the novel is devoted to Elmer and Protestant hypocrisy, it is also an exploration of faith, belief, and humanism in America (even if it is rather tongue-in-cheek). Sinclair Lewis invested in quite a bit of background research before writing Elmer Gantry, and it shows.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, although it seemed to have lost quite a bit of momentum by the end--the first half or so of the novel was much better than the second. However, I did find the language and prose fantastic throughout with plenty of one-liners to go around. I would read it with a smirk on my face for much of the time. It was very good, if a bit slow going at times.