Friday, November 02, 2012

Ragtime (by E.L. Doctorow)

Ragtime! I saw the musical years ago, but really don't have much recollection of it at all, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the book. But it's so terrific! It's very easy to read, but so complex. It's relatively short (336 pages) but it's incredibly broad in scope, covering turn-of-the-century America from immigrants in tenements to J.P. Morgan in his fancy Manhattan mansion. And it's just enjoyable to read. I mean, it's funny and sometimes bawdy and full of crazy details.

Doctorow writes about three families. One comprises characters known only as Father, Mother, Mother's Younger Brother, etc.; the second is a the family of a man named Coalhouse Walker, Jr. whose fate touches on the black experience in America; the third is a family of Jewish immigrants in the slums. Their fates intertwine with a cast of historical characters whose plotlines are taken from history, but they are brought so vividly to life. (Did you know J.P. Morgan thought he was a reincarnated Egyptian god and spent a night in one of the Great Pyramids? Because I sure didn't.) Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Robert Peary, Henry Ford, and tons of others. The three families meet and interact with these characters and each other, and ultimately they come to represent the melting pot of America. (But not in a boring, homeworky way.)

I feel like this would be an amazing novel to teach. And not to get all four-days-before-the-election political or anything, but there is so much in here about the poor being exploited by the wealthy that reminded me of the importance of unions and the evils of certain rich people who only care about the rich getting richer and about business success, and not about making the American dream accessible to everyone. Relevant, fun, entertaining, amazing. A true classic. Read it.

Exactly six minutes after the car had rolled down the ramp an identical car appeared at the top of the ramp, stood for a moment pointed at the cold early morning sun, then rolled down and crashed into the rear of the first one. Henry Ford had once been an ordinary automobile manufacturer. Now he experienced an ecstasy greater and more intense than that vouchsafed to any American before him, not excepting Thomas Jefferson. He had caused a machine to replicate itself endlessly. His executives and managers and assistants crowded around him to shake his hand. Tears were in their eyes. He allotted sixty seconds on his pocket watch for a display of sentiment. Then he sent everyone back to work.



Blogger Tunnard said...

We have many books in common. Can I follow you on Twitter or somewhere? I also recommend Doctorov's Book fo Daniel.

11:20 AM  

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