Ambientada en la década de los cincuenta, cuando no se hablaba de las frustraciones sino que se ahogaban en martinis, “El hombre del traje gris” de Sloan Wilson se centra en Tom Rath, un hombre que lleva una vida idéntica a la de miles de hombres de aquella época. Tom Rath vive en Connecticut pero cada mañana coge el tren para ir a trabajar a Nueva York. Tom tiene una mujer preciosa que le espera en casa y tres adorables hijos pequeños, pero esto no parece suficiente; en la pared del comedor hay un desconchado en forma de interrogante y las malas hierbas pueblan el jardín. Tom, pero especialmente su mujer (que por algo se pasa el día en casa) odian el vecindario en el que viven, sólo porque sus vecinos son personas como ellos, gente que desea marcharse de este barrio para ir a uno mejor. “El hombre del traje gris” hace una radiografía de la vida en los suburbios durante los años 50 del mismo modo que la hizo John Cheever, pero Sloan Wilson no es tan amargo y pesimista, y en lugar de poner émfasis en las insatisfacciones y la frustración, prefiere centrarse en los esfuerzos que hace el protagonista para conseguir un equilibrio que le permita ser moderadamente feliz. No es que a Tom le guste el dinero, pero sí le gusta lo que se puede hacer con él, por ejemplo pagar en el futuro la universidad a sus tres hijos. Pero Tom tampoco se quiere matar trabajando para su familia, sábados, domingos y vacaciones incluidas, y luego no poder estar nunca con ellos. Tom lucha, como tantos otros, para poder equilibrar vida laboral y vida privada. Pero estos no son los dos únicos mundos que intenta armonizar Tom, también intenta reconciliar pasado y presente, y su traumática experiencia como paracaidista en la segunda guerra mundial con su reintroducción en la vida civil. Se ha acusado muchas veces esta novela de “conformista”, como si este adjetivo tuviera una connotación peyorativa por naturaleza. Tom Wrath a veces es pesimista, casi siempre consciente de sus limitaciones y en ocasiones duda de sus capacidades, pero nunca es un ser pasivo. ¿Qué tiene de malo intentar ser feliz con lo que uno tiene al alcance? Demasiadas veces parece que la literatura debe contar sólo grandes historias de amor, hechos heroicos, vidas rebeldes o cualquier cosa que se salga de la norma, cuando igual de épica puede ser la lucha de un hombre de traje gris que intenta conservar su individualidad en una sociedad que se empeña en anularla, como también lo pueden ser los esfuerzos de un hombre corriente para conservar cierta honestidad y sinceridad (para con los otros pero también consigo mismo) en un entorno hostil. El protagonista desea encontrar lo que los clásicos llamaban “aurea mediocritas”, un término medio que le permita ser feliz, porque sino ¿qué otra opción tiene? ¿Hacerse beatnik y vagabundear por toda Norteamérica? Éste no sería precisamente el estilo de Tom Wrath. El final de “El hombre del traje gris” puede parecer un final feliz al estilo de las películas de Frank Capra, pero como muchas de las películas de Frank Capra si uno se pone a analizar este supuesto final feliz no puede evitar empezar a ver fisuras. Por ejemplo, al final de “¡Qué bello es vivir!” George Bailey descubre que todo el pueblo se ha volcado para ayudarlo porque lo aprecian y, sí, esto está bien, pero no es lo que quería George Bailey en un principio; él quería viajar, descubrir el mundo y sobre todo no quedarse atrapado en Bedford Falls. De modo parecido, puede dar la sensación que Tom Wrath ha conseguido todo lo que quería, pero no se puede evitar pensar que esto no es suficiente y que, si lo ha conseguido, ha sido más que nada por un golpe de suerte y que, como en las numerosas ocasiones anteriores en las que todo parecía ir viento en popa, las cosas se volverán a torcer en el momento menos pensado. “El hombre del traje gris” es una obra en la que, por más que nunca se miren de frente, los sinsabores de la vida siempre están ahí escondidos, a punto de salir a la superficie en forma de jarrón estampado contra la pared. La novela se termina, pero uno tiene la sensación que la lucha por conseguir el equilibrio de Tom Wrath no se acabará jamás; las dificultades y las pequeñas frustraciones durarán toda la vida. Se podría decir que la lectura de John Cheever deja un sabor amargo, mientras que la de Sloan Wilson deja una sensación agridulce.Marty
This is a simply and beautifully told narrative of self discovery in post WW2 American society. It describes the pressures, not just of the 1950’s, but of our subsequent society as well, to conform in our money-driven, success-oriented work world through sacrificing other aspects of our lives, i.e. family - in essence to become the man in the gray flannel suit - and one man’s choice to modify that path. Post traumatic stress disorder, although it was not known by that name in the 50’s, and is usually considered a previous (WWI shell-shock) and later (Afganistan and Iraq veterans) phenomenon, is depicted with sensitivity, giving the book an anti-war element. Both repressed, angry Rath, and his almost too-good-to-be-true wife Betsy, are believable. Jonathan Franzen, in his introduction to the most recent edition, is off-base when he says that the quality of the first half of the novel exceeds that of the second half; the novel is consistently strong from beginning to end. Without being heavy-handed, Wilson clearly conveys his message of the importance of honesty, the burden of harboring untold secrets, and the liberation of revealing them.Dave
** spoiler alert ** Allegedly the quintessential novel of the 1950s suburban America, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit deeply resonated with me at a time when I'm preparing to enter the corporate world. While I think the happy ending and neat clean-up of plot problems forces this (somehow) to be considered "middle-brow" literature, those aspects were incredibly refreshing after 4 years of literature that only ends badly for most characters. I enjoyed the hopeful outlook that worked hand-in-hand with the varied critiques of corporate culture, capitalism, and ambition. If nothing else, this is a book that urges caution upon those whose constant mobility (both literal and figurative) places them at risk of losing that which matters most.Jamie Leighton
This is a great novel to read if you are interested in America in the 1950s. It was a bestseller when it was published in 1955. Themes regarding the role of work and family in our lives are contemporary today-- although Tom and Betsy's lives are more blessed than many 2013 lives and Betsy's place was firmly in the home. Tom's ambitions and career contrast with his ultra-successful workaholic boss's; Hopkins, his boss, pays a price for his constant working with diminished relationships with his wife and daughter. What do Americans value? The book may be a tad too idealistic or simplistic for some; it's like a Frank Cappa movie. The various plot twists are perhaps too neatly tied up in the end for some modern tastes, but I'm a sucker for "It's A Wonderful Life" and nostalgic for the 50's. After the war, life wasn't perfect, but people found work, didn't lose sleep over terrorism, and didn't feel the frustration of the ninety percent. They thought about honesty, about doing the right thing, and there wasn't the same resentment of the ultra-wealthy of 2012 and 2013. Of course, Hopkins was a self-made man, an American dream come true. The role of inheritance and wills comes into play in the book. Bernstein, the small-town Judge, plays the role of the "law" in a very unrealistic way (at least for 2013). However, he is a firmly likable fellow who seeks justice and keeps getting a stomach ache whenever there is a conflict or dispute. If I were to meet someone in real life from this novel, I'd meet him.Mike
I feel like four stars is a bit generous, and if I could I'd probably be awarding this novel three-and-a-half stars. This book tells the story of a man who very quickly after being married is off fighting in World War II, and then after surviving that finds himself with three kids and a wife who knows nothing of the emotional trauma her husband suffered during the war. He's fighting a different struggle for survival now, trying to be successful in the corporate world and get by in a household where there simply isn't enough money to meet the seemingly endless expenses of their lives. The book is full of stress, emotional angst, and justification for the term "the age of anxiety" being used to describe life in America in the twentieth century. An incorporated theme is the concept of being willing to sell one's soul and honesty if that's what it takes to get ahead. Another theme is the damage done when spouses keep important secrets in their lives from each other. At the end the surprisingly happy ending tagged on after all that's gone before it seems too easy.Eric Durant
Amazing. Best book I've read in a while. The theme is timeless. I'm looking forward to my book club discussing it in a few months.Christina
They drank a lot of cocktails in the 1950's.Luke Coffey
A seemingly forgotten novel that so closely depicts the mindset of the generation recuperating from the horrors of World War II, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit captures the feel of the 1950's America by stripping away the grandiose and content facade of post-war suburban life and immerses the reader in the reality of that way of life. A novel that can be interpreted in many different fashions, a stance against conformity, the voice of a struggling generation, the exemplary showing of the flawed concept of the American dream. It contains a message for all readers. Vastly underrated and little known in todays society Suit still holds a prominent message that can easily be translated into our own daily lives.Erin
In the current edition of the book Jonathan Franzen writes an introduction, in which he explains that the first half of the book is a great work, and the second half falls flat. I have to agree that the ending is disappointing. The book starts out just completely full of emotion that I think rings very true with the current disillusioned generation. I take the train to my office job every day and work hard to move up a ladder to somewhere, because I want the stuff everyone else has and the house and maybe babies or whatever, but at the same time it all feels false and like I probably shouldn't frame my life around my career. These, and the complicated blend of emotions one experiences after an experience in a wartime environment, make up the bulk of the emotional punch this novel packs. I really enjoyed it. Even if everything was wrapped up with a neat bow, and nothing was painful or shocking, it resonated and resonates and will resonate with that particular feeling of being young, but not young enough that you can be as irresponsible as you want to be. Of having to do things for others and being dominated by worry about money. It's a great glimpse into the period of time when people were opening their eyes and realizing where they were in the 50s, and I imagine I have a little more of an idea of what it feels like to be inside Don Draper's head.Definitely worth the read, as long as you don't mind when things are just a little unrealistically in favor of the protagonists.Crystal
A great look at 1950s suburban life in post-WWII America. The eponymous man in the gray flannel, Tom Rath, traverses his way higher up the corporate ladder not for any great love of business or work, but simply because he needs more money to support his family. He has no affinity toward working harder for the love of his career, but simply wants to make ends meet in an upper-middle class manner. Though this book is over 50 years old its main points still hold very true today. Good, quick read with an interesting forward by Jonathan Franzen, who counts Sloan Wilson as an influence on his modern-day novels (like The Corrections) that tackle similar themes.Meghan Walsh
I love the 50's! I had to read this book and watch the movie for a 1950's History Class I'm taking at Marquette University. Tom Rath is a man who struggles with most parts of his life. He is under stress at work and at home. Tom gets pressure from co-workers and bosses and his wife to excel and do better. But, Tom wants to find the perfect work-life balance. This book clearly displays a man who wants to conform to societal norms, yet others want him to spread his wings. It even touches on such issues as PTSD that Tom fights after his days in WWII Europe. A must read for all sociology majors or those just curious about life in the 50's. The life Tom wants to live is much like that of Ward and June Clever whose biggest concern is what mischief young Beaver is getting in to. But, we all know that's unrealistic. This was an amazing book that deals with the heart of conformity and non-conformity in 1950's America.Redshirt Knitting
This book was recommended to me as being "something every Mad Men fan should read." It has similar themes, but was ineptly written. About 2/3rds of the book's bulk is comprised of characters either A) talking to each other, or B) thinking out loud. You start to appreciate the old writing class cliche about "show me, don't tell me."If you want some 50s angst, check out Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar." It touches many of the same issues, and is about a million times better than this book in every respect.Marcel
Creí que iba a ser una novela acerca de los episodios vividos en una oficina y que el protagonista retrataría la existencia de la clase media a partir del trabajo con sus compañeros. La portada incluso me hacía pensar en alguien que se dirige a su trabajo, con cierta perspectiva distante, como si algo no encajara. Las preocupaciones económicas del matrimonio que protagoniza la historia me involucraron dentro de una trama que progresa con el mecanismo del suspenso y la intriga, pero trasladadas a la vida común y corriente de un vecino cualquiera de un barrio de los suburbios. Así se sumerge en el mundo de los miembros de la clase media norteamericana de posguerra, mostrando sus ambiciones, sueños, traumas del pasado y el arco de sus relaciones sentimentales. Es de esas historias que carecen del brillo de la popularidad, pero que tienen mucho que decir a pesar de los años que han transcurrido desde su publicación, pequeños y atractivos tesoros que se encuentran detrás de los grandes clásicos. Es más, los problemas del personaje no dejan de ser los problemas del hombre actual, que atraviesan las preocupaciones laborales como marco para dibujar el destino personal y familiar, con muchos ejemplos a lo largo de la novela.Rafeeq O.
Whenever I watch The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit with Gregory Peck, I say, "Boy, it'd be nice to read the original novel by Sloan Wilson sometime, wouldn't it?"...and when I at last came across an old 1956 printing in the local library basement sale, this old paperback shouldered its way immediately to the top of my reading list. I was not disappointed. It is an enjoyable and moving five-star work.The basics of the novel--a combat veteran haunted by memories of the men he killed, and by the brief, desperate love he found in Italy, tries to turn his mousy career and his dispirited marriage around by joining the "rat race"--are familiar to anyone who has seen the film, so there is little need to cover them here. The novel, of course, is more finely grained in its telling detail than any film, and such detail is lifelike and good, and ultimately moving.On the one hand, Wilson's narrative voice can be urbane and gently wry. After spending most of the first page describing a question-mark-shaped crack in the wall of the couple's dingy house, for example, the text reports with calm irony that this suspicious shape "d[oes] not seem symbolic to Tom and Betty, nor even amusing"--and in case we still don't get it, another nudge points out that everyone else cannot help staring at the thing. Sentences of the offhand "It was fashionable that summer to be cynical about one's employers..." variety are a similar joy.Coupled with such minor authorial games, however, is a rich investigation of the mind of ex-paratrooper and now vaguely wary husband Tom Rath. During the Second World War, in close combat, Rath killed seventeen men--a fact "he simply hadn't thought about for quite a few years" rather than "a thing he had deliberately tried to forget." Mm hmm. And yet, as he thinks of those years, "His mind [goes] blank. Suddenly the word 'Maria' flashe[s] into it"...and yet, at least this early on, all we will get is that single word, and then the narrative tacks intriguingly away.Wilson will give more in due time, of course. He will show us Rath's bleak fatalism of December '44, when after two years of fighting in Europe his unit is to be sent to the Pacific, and he knows--knows--that his luck will run out, and in another jump, or two at the most, he will be dead. The future he will never see, the cold beer he will never drink, the rare steaks he will never eat, the lovely wife waiting at home, to whom he will never make love again--they do not seem real, while only the vulnerable and passionate Maria makes life at all palatable. And of course, just before shipping out to the Pacific Theater, he learns that there may be a child...The friend killed by Rath's grenade, the unacknowledged longing for Maria and his abandoned child, his own absent father shell-shocked in the First World War and then likely suicided in the '20s, the ancient grandmother with her tales of family glory, the faithful wife who wants to see him happy and successful--the introspective Tom Rath is pushed and pulled by impetuses he struggles to understand. And if he is to start living again, truly living, he will have to face the truth, as he has been avoiding for so long.Is the ending a little too pat? Perhaps. Certainly Betty Rath, after a revelation that could indeed finish many a marriage, ends up being an astoundingly good sport about it. Would Tom be as forgiving, one might wonder, if Betty, as convinced as he had been of his imminent death, had found comfort as he did in Rome? Maybe at this stage of the novel he might. Wilson does not quite raise the question, however--unfortunate, as even a few lines would be worthwhile.Nevertheless, the conclusion may indeed be believable. Betty Rath, after all, begins to realize that she has never had a clue about even a tenth of what the man sleeping beside her all these years has suffered, and her sympathy is touching, as are her husband's final simple and heartfelt, almost awestruck professions of love. Tom Rath in the end has nothing to hide, and for the first time in years he feels not cynical and bitter but happy, within himself and within his marriage. After delving so believably into the mind of a privileged college boy turned killer, then turned corporate drone, and finally turned balanced human being, Sloan Wilson brings The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to a conclusion that is life-affirming and even heartwarming.Sara
LOVED this. I'm a sucker for anything 1950s, and this was a great look at the depressing conformity of that era. My dad recommended this book to me after I raved about the AMC show "Mad Men." It's pretty clear that the show's writers took the plot almost directly from this book. Both deal with the same dynamic: War-hero husbands quietly dealing with the mental fall-out of WW2, housewives stifled by a life of cleaning and baking, and what happens when no one is allowed to talk about how they're really feeling. One thing I thought was really interesting: The man character, Tom Rath, is trying to get ahead in his career. His big break comes when he's asked to write a speech for the head of a broadcasting network, who is trying to build a foundation for mental health. Tom drafts several bland versions of the speech, all while having traumatic flashbacks to his time as a paratrouper. Somehow, it never occurs to him that HE is the example his speech needs. No one in the book ever makes the connection that the mental health foundation could be used to treat the thousands of men coming back from war with major issues. Instead, it all has to be bottled up and ignored — dressed up in a gray flannel suit.