I crossed another book off my 2006 list the other day--Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. I liked it enough that I'll probably try An American Tragedy too, although I'm not sure exactly why I liked it. For one thing, there were too many similarities to The Jungle--the sort of descriptions one reads with horror, and characters that one wants to believe could never exist. But there was also the same fascination that drew me quickly through it, watching the downfall of one character and the rise to glory of another.
And yet it doesn't take Dreiser's blatantly obvious ending to show that Carrie is actually somewhat lacking in glory. Throughout the book she lives by following other people, which serves her better than perhaps it should, but she never really thinks about what she might want, or what sort of person she might like to be. It may not be possible to consider these things when one must find a way to make money or starve, but Carrie's character is so different from the others in the novel that it's surprising that she is so willing to go wherever she's led.
In the end Carrie ought to be happy, in her secure position as a well-respected actress, with all the money she needs, a bevy of friends, and a posh hotel apartment, but, of course, she's not. How much better off is she than her seducer, Hurstwood, who comes to quite an unfortunate end? Dreiser says not much, and I have to agree.