Tuesday, January 11, 2011

World's Fair

The answer to "how did you like this book" had qualified yeses in response today. Universally, we found the first 100 pages to be slow and seemingly without forward movement, other than through time. Diana read from a review that was critical of this lack of story and pace.

We all agreed that it was a pastiche rather than a developed story like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Throughout the hour, we came back to comparisons of these two books. Cheryl said she had compared them while reading. I wish I had thought of it! I thought more of the writings of Anny Tyler.

A New York Times review from 1985 said that this was the most autobiographical of Doctorow's books, and was disappointed that he had tried to combine oral history, memoir and novel all at once. That explained the first 100 pages, and though we found them slow, we still enjoyed them. Kathy said that things hadn't changed dramatically from the time of the book and the time of her growing up in Brooklyn. She thought that the change from her childhood to say, the 1970s was much more dramatic.

The reviewer thought the last 100 pages were "breathtaking." We didn't exactly agree with this dichotomy in structure, but then we're fans, not critics. (That's my daughter's line and I like it.) The reviewer took exception to the "tedious description" of radio and movie serial plots, i.e., The Shadow and Zorro. He said the material was overdone. I would love to know the age of the reviewer. We had so enjoyed the segment on The Shadow, and Cheryl even read it aloud to her husband. Kathy wondered if this book wouldn't be valuable to young people today, revealing the Big Apple on the cusp of world war.

Rose was the helpless housewife and mother of that time. We pondered if she could have had a position of strength if she hadn't take a victim's attitude with Gussie, her mother-in-law. The reviewer took exception with the occasional other first-person voices, like Rose and Donald, but we felt it helped us to see a family that Edgar could not have shown were it completely written in his voice. Kathy liked Dave's interest in current events - he told Edgar that General Motors was getting Americans to pay for roads with tax dollars so we they would buy their cars.

We did like Dave and were disappointed that, with all his promise, he wasn't able to thrive. We especially liked Donald, who as first son, experienced Dave's devotion. We thought that Dave seemed to have tired of his father role by the time Edgar came along.

We all felt as we read through those quiet reminiscent pages that the story would develop into the World War II, the Jewish Question and death, perhaps Donald's in the war. The death apparently was Dave's and we couldn't explain why Doctorow inserted it into the middle of the story in Aunt Frances' voice. If you know the answer, please do tell.

We talked about the choice of title since the actual fair doesn't enter until the final third of the book. It's not until we get to the fair that we are told the fair's theme is "The World of Tomorrow." Edgar seems obsessed with the Trylon and Perisphere, which depicts a city-of-the-future. Edgar remarked that you entered, viewed the minature city of the future and then exited at the same place you entered -was Doctorow inviting us to think of this family tomorrow? Oh, and we really liked Norma, and as Kareen said, she probably had a better life in her shady role than Rose in her proper role.

We wondered if the family had turned a corner with Edgar's prize and free admission to the fair. The family witnesses the symbolic time capsule that is buried for 5,000 years in the future. Dave comments at how inappropriate the items are as a representation of contemporary society. The book concludes with Edgar burying his own time capsule, but with items he sacrifices and are meaningful to him though the ventriloquism book is excluded at that last minute. I asked if this was a fitting end to this book. Cheryl read this from the last paragraph - "My way home headed me into the wind. I put my hands in my pockets and hunched my shoulders and went on."

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