Here is what Edith Wharton called the Great American Novel, and when it showed up on the Guardian's Top 100 English Novels list it was suggested that perhaps she was being sarcastic. But when one nominates the Great American Novel, one is defining America at least as much as the Novel, yes And I'm going to venture to suggest that it may not have been the Novel that Wharton was feeling sarcastic about.
There's a straight line between Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' Lorelei and Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, just as there's a line between Dorothy Parker and Sylvia Plath and Lena Dunham, and you can see why Dorothy Parker found it necessary to rebut this book with her short story Big Blonde; these are different archetypes here, and they don't go to the same parties.
But Lorelei is an archetype, one of the great characters, an American Becky Sharp, and this book makes an impact, despite its often preposterous plot. (You know where else Freud makes a personal appearance is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.) Anita Loos (her real name, surprisingly, not a dirty joke you didn't get) knows exactly what she's doing. Lorelei's ditzily unreliable narration packs a ton of information in between its lines.
And it's funny. Like, super funny: one of the funniest books I've ever read.
I'm writing this on Thanksgiving, and the news today is filled with breathless anticipation of tomorrow, which we call Black Friday because people are most likely going to actually die in pursuit of discounts and yes, sure: Lorelei is the Great American Hero we deserve.