Sunday, March 15, 2020

Ragtime: Review

Ragtime (1975) by E. L. Doctorow is set in early 20th-Century America (about 1902-1914). Its fictional heart is with an unnamed family in upper New York. None of the family has names beyond Mother, Father, Grandfather, Mother's Younger Brother, and the son of the house. Their lives are entwined with various famous real-life personages such as Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Evelyn Nesbit. And these famous people interact with the likes of Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata. On the periphery is another fictional family--known only as Tateh and his daughter--who will become important to Mother and her family at the end of the story. 

So...I just finished this book last night and it has pretty much fallen completely out of my head (I had to go back and look at details to give the synopsis above). I guess I should have taken notes while reading it so I would have something more to say about the thing. But--actually, the fact that I don't have much to give you in the way of impressions speaks volumes in and of itself. Honestly, I can't see why this was (according to the blurb on the front) an "astonishing bestseller." Unless the fact that it was a bestseller is what is so astonishing--then, yes, I'm in total agreement with that. This seems to me to be a rambling book that reminds me a lot of stream of consciousness novels but, on the surface, making more sense. I mean, there are story lines to be had, but the way they jump around and in & out of each other is very disconcerting. 

We witness Houdini's desperation to conquer more and more complicated and dangerous feats. We get a look at a bizarre conversation between Ford and Morgan. Ford develops his assembly-line car manufacturing process. Freud visits Clark University. Factory workers strike and a black man seeks justice that isn't there for people of color. But it's all smooshed together in such a mish-mash that it's hard to get much out of it. Definitely not my cup of tea.  ★★ and 1/2.


Debbie Rodgers said...

Nor mine, Bev. I remember trying to read this circa 1980 and struggling and struggling. Thanks for the validation ;-)

Bev Hankins said...

You're welcome. It just did not do much for me at all.