cover image If I Were Boss: The Early Business Stories of Sinclair Lewis

If I Were Boss: The Early Business Stories of Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis. Southern Illinois University Press, $19.95 (408pp) ISBN 978-0-8093-2139-1

""Mr. Ad Man, YOU are the priest and poet of the commercial age."" So, characteristically, begins one make-believe epigraph in this selection from the more than 60 stories, ""for and about `the tired businessman,'"" that Lewis published in popular magazines between 1915 and 1922. A former reporter, public relations man and ad copywriter, Lewis (Babbitt; Elmer Gantry) had already perfected his ear for the quick pitch and was well acquainted with the hurly-burly language of the booming early-20th-century economy when he wrote the 15 tales published here. Mostly set in midtown Manhattan, these stories concern the life-or-death intrigues of grasping middle managers like Whittier Small (""Even other commuters remarked that he looked like a commuter""), unscrupulous shysters like Lancelot Todd (author of Yes, YOU, Mr. Ad Man and Fishin' for Effishincy) and harried young lovers like Terry Ames and Sue Pratt (brought together by their impotent hatred for the corrupt advertising firm where they work). Throughout, Lewis remains intriguingly ambivalent toward the service jobs that are his characters' redemption or damnation. These stories are not masterworks by any means, but they do offer a window on the time when American workers had a less jaundiced view of the job market than they do today. DiRenzo, an historian of American business, contributes a very informative introduction. (Nov.)