Monday, March 15, 2010

E.L. Doctorow/RAGTIME

At the turn of the 20th century, several New York families intersect: a well-off WASP family in New Rochelle, a mysterious young black woman who moves in with them with her baby, a Lower East Side impoverished Jewish immigrant and his motherless daughter, and a slew of real historical characters (Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, JP Morgan, and tons of others).

First published in 1975, Ragtime was an instant bestseller and the recipient of much critical acclaim. Since, it has consistently appeared on "Best Of" lists, including Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (If this list means anything--Modern Library is a division of Random House, and it's interesting to note that Ragtime is not the only RH publication on it... Nevertheless, it's a list that's frequently bandied about.) I put it on my Fill-in-the-Gaps list because I saw it appearing on so many lists. It also came with tons of personal recommendations from friends.

I enjoyed this book, although I wish there had been more to it. In the end, I felt there were a lot of loose ends that I wish had been a little more deeply explored. I don't want to leave any spoilers, but there was a point where (for me, at least) one of the narratives overwhelmed all the others, and the end of the book didn't recover them. Maybe they just didn't matter. However, I really liked Doctorow's narrative style, which is plainspoken, unadorned. He packs in tons of history in a wonderfully readable way.

I find (strangely) I don't have a lot to say about it... Has anyone else read it? I'm supposed to be chatting about it on my blog on April 1, so if you have read it, please feel cordially invited to stop by then. Or you know, just tell me here.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the fact that one narrative (Coalhouse Walker) seems to "take over" the latter section of the novel is Doctorow's not-so-subtle comment that the history of America is the history of race relations -- it overshadows everything else...

Lisa said...

I read this years and years ago so I can't speak about specifics but I loved it. I came away feeling very satisfied. I don't really care for a book that ties up all of the ends. And, I guess I loved the Coalhouse Walker story line so much that I was okay with how it was thrust to the forefront. Have you seen the movie? It's quite well done. Also there's a recent book about Evelyn Nesbitt that I bought but haven't gotten to read yet.