Hokay so. Babbitt is about...Babbitt, a 1920's realtor who is All the Conventional Things. He's all 2.5 kids (awkward, that 0.5), new car, shiny happy house, member of civic leagues, dutifully Presbyterian in the shallowest of ways, Republican, etc. Lewis introduces you to Babbitt, notes his nice pajamas and his habit of sleeping on the porch because this is what people did back then, and then rips into Babbitt and everything he represents for 300 pages. It is a manifesto against middle-class American conventionalism and How to Win Friends and Influence People-style business and "go-getter" -ism. I WANT TO SMUSH ITS FACE WITH LOVE.
Oddly enough, Babbitt is full of things I generally find irritating in books: slang, speeches as philosophical tools, clever turns of phrase that sort of propel you out of the story. But since they're being used satirically, they didn't bother me. Turns out I'll swallow your line if it's delivered with a raised eyebrow and an elbow nudge. It's like a literary Mad Men, if Mad Men happened during Prohibition and was actually about making fun of Don Draper, not glamorizing him.
Babbitt (character, not book) does have a wee midlife crisis wherein he realizes that his life is a sham and he's actually an ass, but it's a short-lived crisis. Actually, I had a few issues with this part of the book- at some points it seemed like Lewis wasn't just ripping on shallow American middle-class materialism, but the whole of middle-class life. There were bits where I was kind of like "Meh, Lewis. Lots of people are legit happy with their family life and their jobs and that's not ALWAYS soul-sucking, so....have another highball and shush."
ALSO. I found Babbitt to be an oddly sympathetic character (and I seem to be alone here). I have trouble stomaching the WOE IS ME suburban ennui drama, but Babbitt isn't woe-ing. He is too stupid to woe, mostly. And when he does WOE, it's less "my life sucks" and is more "I have let my life suck because I am a dumby" and THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. And in some moments where Lewis wants you to think Babbitt is a fool for his sentimentality, I just found him to be human. We're not ALL super-reflective smarty-pantses analyzing our every thought for a hint of superficiality at all times, Lewis.
Some of the criticism I've read mentioned that the book falls short because it doesn't offer a solution. Lewis doesn't say "this is what sucks about American superficiality and HERE IS HOW YOU BETTER IT, WORLD." I prefer it that way. If Lewis had tried to make the book more about his ideal middle-class America, it would have become less funny and more moralizing. Anywoot! Read it, it is happy making.
Four stars out of your mom- not giving it five because he gets a bit heavy-handed and unreasonable at times, but only a few times and it's funny enough the rest of the time for me to not care all that much.