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Sunday, February 11, 2018

City of God (2000) by E.L. Doctorow


Book Review
City of God (2000)
by E.L. Doctorow


  I guess E.L. Doctorow is still canon, even though I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone outside a graduate course in American literature who might be enthusiastic about his inclusion.  He's got the genuine, late twentieth century break out book, The Book of Daniel, he has two mid/late career multi-dimensional culture properties, Billy Bathgate and RagtimeCity of God, then is Doctorow's fourth best novel, and probably the one you would have to cut from the next version.

 If you were looking for a periodization of American literature between, say, 1980 and 2020, a natural dividing line is the events of September 11th, 2001.  For a couple of reasons- first, it's within a couple of years of the twenty year generation line between 1980 and 2000, second, New York City is so dramatically over represented in American literary fiction that the fact that 9/11 took place in New York City magnifies the significance of that particular event.

  City of God, which is more or less a "New York City" novel of the pre 9/11 era- almost the last, I'm thinking, joins a shelf whose most prominent representative is Paul Auster,  American writers influenced by the existentialist influenced European tradition of post- World War II fiction.  Doctorow maintains experimental flourishes without alienating the reader, he confuses the reader, but no in a way that distracts you from the emotions of his character.

  But, I think , the major division is that pre 9/11 fiction is set in a world where evil, more or less, doesn't exist. If evil does exist it is the evil of the increasingly distant past, i.e. the Holocaust, which provides the dramatic element for Doctorow's thin plot.

 I think maybe City of God made the 1001 Book List because it is "late" Doctorow and there is a spiritual theme that is mostly absent from his sprawling Americana epics. To his credit, he pulls it together at the end.  I'm just left wondering who is reading Doctorow in 2018.

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