‘Free Air’ by Sinclair Lewis

‘Free Air’ by Sinclair Lewis

Written in 1919, this story is one of the first in the tradition of road trip books. Jaunty with the verbal slapstick comedy and slang, it is a great little piece of the era. Lewis has as his hero the working man Milt, who is in love – maybe – with the upper class Claire. They meet on on a cross country journey on the New American Road, he in his inexpensive flivver car, and she and her father in their deluxe import.

The art of driving and how travelers spend the nights, meals and other accommodations is the biggest draw to the story to modern readers, I suppose, and it was very successful on publication to a a public who were embracing the merits of the automobile. Lewis envisions the automobile as a great equalizer of the classes, and that is reflected in so much of this book. In the show Boardwalk Empire, this is the book which Jimmy and Pearl spend days reading and dreaming of traveling west, so it is a nice nod to a little book that hopefully will keep resurfacing every now and then.