Even William Faulkner acknowledged his importance, calling him “the father of my generation of American writers and the tradition of American writing which our successors will carry on. He has never received his proper evaluation”. While Anderson’s prose can sometimes take on sonorous, biblical rhythms or echo the grandstanding rhetoric of county-fair oratory, his best short fiction manages to combine the folksiness of Mark Twain, the naturalist daring of Theodore Dreiser (to whom he dedicated his collection Horses and Men), and, more surprisingly, a linguistic freshness and simplicity he discovered in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and Three Lives. Above all, though, Anderson exhibits that distinctive tenderness for his characters, despite all their flaws and foibles, that we associate with Russian writers like Chekhov and Turgenev. He once called the latter’s Memoirs of a Sportsman “the sweetest thing in all literature”. If that’s true, Winesburg, Ohio must be one of the most quietly bittersweet. In a cycle of linked vignettes, what we might now describe as a mosaic novel, the book portrays the loneliness, isolation and desperate yearning of the citizens of an 1890s town in the middle of farm country.
more from Michael Dirda at the TLS here.