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The Rise of Silas Lapham

By: William Dean Howells
Narrated by: Grover Gardner
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Summary

Howells’ best-known work and a subtle classic of its time, The Rise of Silas Lapham is an elegant tale of Boston society and manners.

After garnering a fortune in the paint business, Silas Lapham moves his family from their Vermont farm to the city of Boston in order to improve his social position. The consequences of this endeavor are both humorous and tragic as the greedy Silas brings his company to the brink of bankruptcy.

The novel focuses on important themes in the American literary tradition - the efficacy of self-help and determination, the ambiguous benefits of social and economic progress, and the continual contradiction between urban and pastoral values - and provides a paradigm of American culture in the Gilded Age.

Public Domain (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic reviews

“Again and again in  Indian Summer, the felicity of the writing makes us pause in admiration.… A midlife crisis has rarely been sketched in fiction with better humor, with gentler comedy and more gracious acceptance of life’s irrevocability.” (John Updike on  Indian Summer)
“[A] delicious novel of romance in late 19th-century Italy.” ( Washington Post on  Indian Summer)

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  • Mr. Eyuz
  • 12-01-23

Don't Let the Dust Bury This American Masterwork

This is one of those novels whose title vaguely rings a bell, like Zuleika Dobson or Ethan Frome. Its classic status clings to it the way verdigris adheres to a bronze statue. Copies sit there on the library shelf, unmoving and unread. To relegate such a rich and humane work to a state of graceful neglect is a loss that’s almost criminal.

Plenty happens in The Rise of Silas Lapham, and yet the particulars are so quotidian that a summary is likely to sound dull. This is an account of the life of a late-19th century American businessman and his family. Howells was celebrated in his day for telling it like it was, yet he managed to describe even the most prosaic of business transactions with grace, economy and wit. The author was a friend of Mark Twain, and it’s easy to imagine the two writers inspiring each other.

Two other authors came to mind as I read this book: George Eliot and John Updike. The connection to Eliot is explicit: one of the characters in the book is reading Middlemarch, and it’s clear the choice is not random. As with Middlemarch, much of this story concerns two contrasting sisters, and Howells clearly shares Eliot’s desire to encompass all aspects of human nature within a circumscribed community. As for Updike, I recall reading somewhere that he cited Howells as an influence, and it’s not hard to see what the author of the Rabbit novels saw in his predecessor’s storytelling craft. Like Howells, Updike had a reverence for the ordinary, an appreciation for decency and a sympathy for fallibility. It is emblematic of both authors’ deeply humanistic visions that they could write compelling narratives that are essentially without villains.

Two final points. First, it’s worth noting that this is one of the quintessential Boston novels. I write from the banks of the Charles River, and it’s electrifying to read accounts of life in this city at a time when Back Bay still reeked of salt water. Second, the reading of this book is pitch perfect. No one reads American literature better than Grover Gardner. He delivers dialog with sturdy dignity, yet finds every trace of pathos. Like all the very best readers, he manages to bring out subtleties only hinted at in the text.

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  • Michele Olivieri
  • 24-12-22

A Great Story

Superbly interesting story with great characters and an awesome narrator! The twist and turns will have you realing!

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  • Patrick Gillam
  • 11-11-22

I enjoyed this story and can’t say I had read its like

“The Rise of Silas Lapham” is a curious title for a story that starts with a successful man and proceeds to chart his humbling. But a rise it is, for he’s tested and prevails. I don’t mind admitting that I like such a story. What’s more, I enjoyed the romantic drama that unfolds with the second generation. All the characters have their distinct personalities; their relationships are by turns warm and witty (when they’re not at odds); and the peek into another time and place satisfies the voyeurism that compels any reading of a novel. Top it with a splendid performance by one of the top readers in the business, and I am happy.

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  • Frank Johnson
  • 02-04-20

Waste of time

Mainly a just a group of dudes sitting around in an office talking about boring pasts.