July 15, 2010

A leftist, radicalized, American version of Joyce: On The 42nd Parallel

The Library of America has printed the entire USA trilogy by Dos Passos in a nice hardcover. U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money (Library of America) I however, do not particularly like hardcover books of many pages - they hurt my left wrist as I read. Therefore, I did not buy the entire trilogy in hard cover. I was also covering my bases. Had I not liked the first novel of the trilogy, The 42nd Parallel, I would not be burdened by having bought and thus `having' to read the whole 1000 pages of the three books. I thought I was saving money, but now I wish I had bought the whole thing to begin with.

Dos Passos is something of a leftist radicalized, American version of Joyce. If that sounds good to you, get the book(s). He does something interesting here about the nature of storytelling and history in the early part of the twentieth century. He weaves together bits and pieces of history and fiction and song and poetry to get at what was real about that time. Some of the bits take you out of the narrative he's stringing together for your elucidation, but they help give you (and reinforce) context of the time. Dos Passos' strength is in creating characters. Too many books that try to bring several characters and have them serve as narrative centers for a time suffer a common weakness: some of the characters are stronger than others. Dos Passos does not suffer from this deficit, and his storytelling benefits as a result. All the characters are rounded out and have a life you want to see played out.