Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Before I read Ragtime, I was always confusing Cory Doctorow and E.L. Doctorow. Definitely not anymore. Cory’s enthusiastic pop culture fizz is worlds and decades apart from E.L.’s historical fiction.

Ragtime starts out strong, as real people mix with imagined people to give us a drama (and eventually a popular musical) about the history of early 1900s America. Classes, cultures, and colours mix, too, as the story peers into mansions and looks at the streets.

The story is strongest when the characters are separated and we get strikingly energetic looks into all corners of turn-of-the century American life. The narrative winds along like music while the unusual way Doctorow writes dialogue is both arresting and compelling. But as random characters meet and marry, the ending becomes a somewhat forced melting pot metaphor.

 

Book blurb:

Welcome to turn-of-the-century America, where Scott Joplin’s ragtime sets the beat and passionate vitality sets the tone. Harry Houdini astounds audiences with feats of magic escape while J. P. Morgan rules the world of finance like a Roman emperor. Emma Goldman preaches revolution, free love, and feminism; Henry Ford builds cars by turning men into machines. And a beautiful ex-chorus girl named Evelyn Nesbitt sparks the murder of a great architect by a mad millionaire.

These real-life characters mingle with a Lower East Side Jewish peddler, a black musician from Harlem, and a rebellioud young middle-class WASP in this classic novel that weaves a spellbinding story into a vibrant mosaic of a time, a place, and a people losing their innocence and giving birth to an age where anything and everything goes.

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