The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson

The Man in the Gray Flannel SuitThe Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This modern classic (to use an oxymoron) began for me almost as a duty read, like something from a teacher’s summer reading list. However, it didn’t take long for it to become a compelling story that evoked visions of my childhood. It was a view of my parents’ life, though, not my own. It isn’t what I would call a fun read, either, but I still enjoyed it. The characters aren’t particularly likeable and there certainly isn’t what passes for action these days. It describes the life of a midlevel office worker in New York who returned from the war (WWII) and becomes enmeshed in the corporate rat race and suburban status race while his marriage seems to be crumbling.

I more or less knew that much about it, that and the fact it had been a Gregory Peck movie back in the 1950s. I was surprised to learn that it was much more. There is a very credible account of the life of a WWII paratrooper, a torrid love affair, a complex family and legal relationship with a rich relative who dies with a contested will. It’s like a better-written Mad Men without all the sex, smoking, and booze. Well, there’s a bit of all of those without the excesses of the TV screen version. The writing style seems dated, almost quaint now. It’s not elegant prose; it’s more prosaic than that (to use a tautology). The plot moves briskly as we wait for the main character’s life to implode at any moment. It definitely makes one think about what life is all about, how to balance responsibilities toward family and employer and one’s own need for happiness. If you read this you will be undergoing some self-examination, so be prepared. Have a mirror handy.

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