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The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Paperback – October 23, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though it's cited in nearly every book and article about the culture of the 1950s, few readers under 65 know Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit firsthand. The 1955 bestseller is being reissued with a new introduction by Jonathan Franzen-and, indeed, the story of disappointed Westport, Conn., strivers Tom and Betsy Rath anticipates the novels of suburban anomie by Franzen and his contemporaries. Dreaming of a bigger house for his wife and three kids, WWII veteran Tom leaves his job with an arts foundation to be a well-paid public relations executive at the United Broadcasting Corporation. But corporate ladder climbing and consumer rewards leave him miserable. Though his sentimental conclusion now seems dated, Wilson's portrait of the martini-soaked malcontents is sharp, memorable and still resonant today.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"The writing is vigorous, unvarnished, tartly observant; its overhanging disquietude isn't dated - if anything, it's deepened." - Los Angeles Times Book Review
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 4 edition (October 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568582463
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568582467
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on June 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
With so much being written about the "Greatest Generation" the story generally ends sometime around V-J day. Sloan Wilson's insightful novel gives readers an opportunity to see how a World War II veteran might handle the rat race in 1950s New York City.
Tom and Betsey Rath are married with three kids trying to keep up with the Joneses in their Connecticut suburb while Tom climbs the corporate ladder in Manhatten. The day to day conflicts are pretty interesting, but about halfway through the novel, Tom sees someone that brings his war past into the present.
The title of the book has come to mean the bland working man of the 1950s, but our hero Tom Rath is not bland. He has enough inner conflicts to field an Olympic team. Tom isn't some sycophant trying to get ahead, but a guy who killed and watched his friends get killed in the war. I wasn't expecting the depth of character.
The novel is written in clear direct language that makes it easy to follow the story and the real complexities of life. Stylistically, the omnipotent narrator is usually in the head of our hero Tom, but he occasionally jumps around to other minds for variation. Just as you've made up your mind about a simple character the narrator jumps into their skin and they too become a flesh and blood person.
The modern day criticism is that the novel has a happy ending, especially since happy endings are frowned upon in post-modern literature. But the important part of the book is not the resolution but the journey and Wilson gets the journey just right. I'm glad I gave the book a chance.
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Every now and again, a book or movie is produced which captures the spirit of the era in which it is written. Sometimes this is done by accident (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was seen by right-wingers as a warning about communist infiltration, and by left-winters as an attack on McCarthyism, when it fact it was neither) and sometimes on purpose (WALL STREET was an almost gleefully self-conscious in its attempt to sum up the greed-crazed 80s), but the effect is basically the same: the work in question becomes a catchphrase, encapsulating not just a story but the spirit of a decade or even a whole generation.

Sloan Wilson's THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT is such a work. Intended as mere novelized autobiography, it struck such a chord with readers that, decades after it was written, it still symbolizes for many the oddly shallow dark side of what was supposedly America's "Golden Era" - the 1950s.

SUIT is the story of Tom Rath, a middle-class American everyman who, in the mid-1950s, experiences a kind of premature midlife crisis. On the surface, Rath seems to be rock solid - he has a beautiful wife, three kids, a car, a house in the New York suburbs, and a good job with a secure future. Stepping off the A train with briefcase in hand, his missus always has a cold Martini on hand, and a nice meal on the stove. Hell, his aged grandmother is even about to will him a mansion on Long Island! By the plastic-fantastic standards of the 50s, he should be ecstatic. But he isn't. He isn't even happy, and neither is Mrs. Rath. They are, in fact, pretty miserable.

The Rath's prosperity is actually an illusion.
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Format: Paperback
Tom Rath, a WWII veteran who survived against incredible odds, feels stressed, distant and unhappy. He has a wife and three kids and works in an unchallenging administrative job that affords him but modest pay and no real room for advancement. He tries for and gets what turns out to be an uncertain, but better paying, position at the United Broadcasting Corp. With his new salary and the sudden death of his 93 year old grandmother, his discontented wife decides to sell their modest house in a boring suburb and move the family into the estate Tom has inherited. Meanwhile Tom, feeling detached and cynical, struggles in his new job to provide what he thinks is expected of him. At the root of this are his growing WWII recollections of a long romantic affair with Maria and, later, of accidentally killing his best friend -both memories triggered by repeatedly running across a fellow war vet now working as an elevator operator in his building.

There are many interesting and important subplots, but the three interrelated central issues confronting Tom regard his attitude toward his wife, his employer, and his past (Maria and the son struggling to survive in post-war Italy). The tension and joylessness that pervade his life hinge on whether or not he can resolve these conflicts. He resolves the issues at home by standing up and fighting for passage of a school bond measure; the issue with his employer by being completely open and honest (instead of playing the cynical game he thinks he is expected to play); and the issue with his past, by committing to send $100 a month to help his son in Italy -and coming clean with his wife Betty about his affair with Maria.
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