Sunday, October 04, 2009


The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1955, 276 pp

My dad used to use the phrase "man in the gray flannel suit" to describe certain people. In fact both of my parents read the book back in the day when it was #5 on the bestseller list of 1955.

Thomas and Betsy Rath are living in a small house in a small Connecticut town with their three small children. They were very happy and in love when they married in 1943, but Thomas had to go to war, jump from planes and kill people. He came back a changed man; now life is dreary and routine, they drink martinis every night and the magic is gone.

Thomas works for a non-profit foundation making not quite enough money. When his grandmother dies and leaves her house to him, he and Betsy decide to move up in the world. But Tom's war induced cynicism and the secrets he carries make it hard for him to take it all seriously. Since he is basically a good person and Betsy is positive with lots of energy, they rather improbably work it all out by the end of the story.

The writing is not great but Sloan struck a chord with the middle class reading public and the book was an instant bestseller, was made into a successful movie and the title went down in history as the concept of conformity. After hearing about this gray flannel suited man for almost my whole life, it was great to read the book at last.

(This book is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon a Time Bookstore. It is also on the shelves of many public libraries.)

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