An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Clyde Griffiths is a young man with ambitions. He's in love with a rich girl, but it's a poor girl he has gotten pregnant, Roberta Alden, who works with him at his uncle's factory. One day he takes Roberta canoeing on a lake with the intention of killing her. From there his fate is sealed. But by then Dreiser has made plain that Clyde's fate was long before sealed by a brutal and cynical society. The usual criticism of Dreiser is that, line for line, he's the weakest of the great American novelists. And it's true that he takes a pipe fitter's approach to writing, joining workmanlike sentences one to the other. But by the end he will have built them into a powerful network, and something vital will be flowing through them.—R.L.