Review: Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other people have called this “an unique literary experience”. I will agree with this, without reflecting on whether this is good or bad. It’s neither. It’s unique. The idea behind Mr Master’s work — that the graveyard of a small town is the place where all secrets can be lifted — is thrilling. Without a doubt, this is a good reflection on small town life and worries.

Many of the concerns of these people will look ridiculous more than a century after the original publishing. This is, of course, not something an author can (or “should”) prepare against, but it should be a question we consider in our reading. Some of these references — the numerous ones to Grover Cleveland, for example — will be tough to crack for a well-educated American of today. Many others — to Lincoln or the Revolutionary War — will be more obvious; however, for a thorough understanding of what is fictional and what real truths it’s based on takes a lot of effort.

That’s not to say that the effort would be wasted. There’s plenty here that would be more thrilling to work on, including the small-town relationships and troubles. It would not be difficult for most people to relate people they know to someone they read about here. At the same time, the format — autobiographical poems by the ghosts of the dead — also means the reader’s attention needs to be fixed on what one or another of the ghosts says.

Overall, this was an interesting experience, but not one I would easily recommend on others.

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