Free Classics: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Every Friday, Marilyn Knapp Litt, who blogs at ClassicKindle.com, brings us her recommendation of a free classic book to discover (or rediscover) on Kindle. Find more of Marilyn’s recommendations at her blog, ClassicKindle.com, a guide to the best free and inexpensive classic literature for the Kindle. You can also get Marilyn’s blog on Kindle and I recommend that you “Like” the Classic Kindle Facebook page as well so you don’t miss anything. Here’s Marilyn’s post:

Booth Tarkington must be one of the best of a pack of forgotten writers. He won one of his two Pulitzers for the 1921 novel I am reviewing.

One of my favorite books is Tarkington’s Alice Adams. She is a very sympathetic heroine and I put her right up there with Jane Austen’s Lizzy.

Here is a taste. Alice goes to a party with her brother – who soon ditches her. She is left to pretend that she is waiting for her date. The book was published in 1921, but as Tarkington writes about people, not so much plot or place, this book is timeless.

She had now to practice an art that affords but a limited variety of methods, even to the expert: the art of seeming to have an escort or partner when there is none. The practitioner must imply, merely by expression and attitude, that the supposed companion has left her for only a few moments, that she herself has sent him upon an errand; and, if possible, the minds of observers must be directed toward a conclusion that this errand of her devising is an amusing one; at all events, she is alone temporarily and of choice, not deserted. She awaits a devoted man who may return at any instant.

Other people desired to sit in Alice’s nook, but discovered her in occupancy. She had moved the vacant chair closer to her own, and she sat with her arm extended so that her hand, holding her lace kerchief, rested upon the back of this second chair, claiming it. Such a preemption, like that of a traveller’s bag in the rack, was unquestionable; and, for additional evidence, sitting with her knees crossed, she kept one foot continuously moving a little, in cadence with the other, which tapped the floor. Moreover, she added a fine detail: her half-smile, with the under lip caught, seemed to struggle against repression, as if she found the service engaging her absent companion even more amusing than she would let him see when he returned: there was jovial intrigue of some sort afoot, evidently. Her eyes, beaming with secret fun, were averted from intruders, but sometimes, when couples approached, seeking possession of the nook, her thoughts about the absentee appeared to threaten her with outright laughter; and though one or two girls looked at her skeptically, as they turned away, their escorts felt no such doubts, and merely wondered what importantly funny affair Alice Adams was engaged in. She had learned to do it perfectly.

Maybe it is too revelatory to say why I liked this passage, but I spent many an hour at high school dances with no dance partner. And it is safe to say I felt impelled to look as if I was having a good time. Tarkington writes about people who seem real and it is always lovely to pick up a book from 90 years ago and find yourself in it.

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