Review of Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

First read: 8/99
Reviewed on: 9/29/99
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

This book had two things that made me predisposed to like it.  First of all, Teddy Roosevelt was mentioned on the first page.  I would hardly call myself a history buff, but I've read a lot of books about TR, and so I've been getting interested in the early 1900s as a result.  (This is off-topic, but the reason I am so interested in President Roosevelt can be summarized in a sentence:  He was UNBELIEVABLY kickass.)   Second of all, I had just read The Moviegoer, which I disliked.   So any book that was enjoyable would be like a glass of cool lemonade to an incredibly thirsty person-who-likes-lemonade.

I had a good time with this book, and would have even had it not been for the Roosevelt/Lemonade factor.  It was the opposite of a "page-turner."  I found that I had to put it down for a minute or two after every chapter or two, just to kind of think things through.  Many of the characters of the book were historical figures that I'd heard about (like Emma Goldman and J.P. Morgan) but never really thought of as real people until I saw them fictionalized.  Doctorow pulled off a very difficult task.  He took all these characters from different classes and spheres, from Houdini to the humble Tateh, and was able to write a book about all of them without making their interactions seem contrived.  I tend to like books that have a lot of interweaving threads, but I don't like books that seem to scream "Hey!   Look!  Interweaving threads!  My author is clever!"  Ragtime is probably the best book I have read of that genre. 

I read the first 30 pages, and stored it in my laptop bag.  But then I stopped taking my laptop around with me, and so I couldn't find it for a while, and wound up reading Rosemary's Baby and rereading Ender's Game so I could read Ender's Shadow which I did.  But then I refound Ragtime after a search, and page 31 was incomprehensible so I had to start over.  It was worth it.  It would have been worth it for the Coalhouse Walker plotline alone.  But, as previously said (or at least implied), none of the plotlines would have been really possible without the others.

This was quite a novel.

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