Coming Up For Air (1939)
by George Orwell
Coming Up For Air is some deep Orwell... a social satire about a 45 year old toothless fatty: George Bowling, who sells insurance and lives in the suburbs with a perpetually distressed, dried up wife and two anonymous young children. After a brief introduction to Bowling's day to day existence in pre World War II England, there is an extended flashback concerning Bowling's childhood. Bowling repeatedly refers to himself as a Cockney, and his childhood is a kind of late 19th century semi-rural idyll, replete with nostalgic fishing holes.
After the flashback ends, Bowling decides to tell his wife he's going away for week but instead goes back to his old neighborhood and laments the destruction of a more innocent world. And drinks. Personally, I was obsessed with Bowling's lack of teeth- at 45. I don't think I'm alone when I say that this detail sends Coming Up For Air into the macabre. Why just today I was at Chipotle, and the bags they had for to-go orders had a quote attributed to Aziz Ansari that simply said, "Do you ever see people without teeth and want to ask, what happened?"
Of course, what happened is that they didn't receive proper dental care. Thus, George Bowling, a toothless 45 year old, is emblematic of an English "every man" and not, say, a drifter/hobo riding the rails. Coming Up For Air is minor classic territory, interesting for the committed fan, but nothing for the average student who reads Animal Farm and 1984 in class.