E.L. Doctorow * Random House * January 10, 2017 * 336 Pages
Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.
I’m a big fan of E.L. Doctorow’s novels, so I was really excited to check out this collection of his short stories. FYI, all the stories have been previously published elsewhere (but they were new to me).
Sadly, the stories didn’t live up to my expectations. One thing I really love about Doctorow is his ability to build unique, layered, believable worlds. Ragtime is a good example of this. But the stories here don’t really showcase that strength. In fact, I’d say most of the stories are very one-dimensional, even boring. The characters just aren’t fleshed out and the settings feel incomplete.
I also wish the writing style and quality had been more consistent. For example, Willi, the first story in the collection (and one of my least favorites), is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, which is very atypical of Doctorow. I just didn’t like it.
There were a few gems in the bunch, though. One of my favorites is The Writer in the Family. In this story, the main character writes letters to his grandmother on behalf of his recently deceased father, trying to convince her that his father (her son) isn’t dead. (His aunts are afraid that the news of their brother’s death would be so shocking that it would kill their mother.) I loved the story. The painful family dynamic is so perfectly and believably described, and the internal conflict that the main character feels is nuanced but very true-to-life.
But I’m not sure these few good stories “save” the book. If you’re already familiar with Doctorow’s works, you will probably get a kick out of checking these stories out. For those who are new to his writings, though, definitely skip this one and read Ragtime or Billy Bathgate instead.