The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The March

I received, for my birthday, a copy of E.L. Doctorow's new novel THE MARCH, about Sherman's march through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Like many of his books, it's narrated from the point of view of multiple characters who occupy multiple rungs in the novel's social and economic (and, in this case, military) ladder of rank. I read it quickly, and with a mind to the upcoming holidays, so perhaps I didn't give it the full attention it deserved. But as I finished it, I kept thinking "so what is all the fuss about?" In the TIMES, Kakutani wrote that Doctorow "manages to weld the personal and the mythic into a thrilling and poignant story." Most of the other reviews were similarly positive; check out a few here.

I didn't see it. I love Doctorow, but I'm finding that I like his earliest stuff best. While I was working in publishing in New York I managed to finagle myself a copy of THE WATERWORKS (publishing peons in those days did a lot of book trading--I suspect now, with people more able to sell their swag on the Net, that publishers keep better control of their inventories--back then it was the Strand or nothing). I hoped to love it like I'd loved THE BOOK OF DANIEL, RAGTIME, etc. But I didn't. I read THE ALIENIST at the same time and actually preferred it. THE MARCH I thought was good but not great: it moved along nicely, driven by a plot (a march to a point) that was predetermined, and with characters that kept my interest. I ended up liking the sleazy Confederate soldier posing as a photographer and the black assistant he inherits better than anyone--the characters at the center (Pearl, etc.) didn't hold my interest.

Reading L'ASSOMMOIR now, my third Zola this quarter. Liking it.


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