Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

U.S. Route 52, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, March 2009

Having moved to the city of Stepford, Minnesota, in August of 2008, one of the first places I wanted to visit was Sauk Centre, the hometown of my favorite novelist, Sinclair Lewis, about four hours up the road.

Lewis's breakthrough novel, Main Street, tells the bittersweet story of Carol Kennicott, whose attempts to enlighten and beautify the fictitious town of Gopher Prairie -- a thinly-veiled Sauk Centre -- are met with the indifference and stubborn resistance of the town's provincial and priggish denizens.

This neon sign marks the spot of a local motel located on the town's Main Street, and named in honor of the fictitious hamlet.  The motel is located next to the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, where the tour guide informed me that the novels of America's first Nobel Prize in Literature winner are no longer required reading in the town's high school.    

This slap in the face of one of America's finest writers and keenest observers of human nature reflects the duality with which Lewis has come to be regarded:  Outside of town on Interstate 94, a billboard proudly claims Sauk Centre as Sinclair Lewis's boyhood home.  Yet, anyone who's ever read Main Street picks up on Lewis's heavy-handed loathing for his hometown's oblivious and hypocritical residents.

Now that the nation's high school and university literature instructors have forgotten him (with the possible exceptions of Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, seldom assigned anymore), their empty-headed counterparts in Sauk Centre have apparently followed suit.

How soon in our future will the same fate be shared Minnesota's other genius author, F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Hopefully never.  The keepers of Fitzgerald's legacy should thank their lucky stars their literary hero hailed from Saint Paul, and not Sauk Centre.