Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ragtime (1975)

My mother read E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime (1975) when it was first published. She never thought to recommend it to me, as she did with Stephen King ("You'll like it, it's scary!") and Erma Bombeck ("You'll like it, it's funny!"), but I read it anyway and have little recollection of doing so. (Maybe she thought it was neither scary nor funny.)

Ragtime comes in four parts (I-IV). As of this writing, I am fifty-eight pages into Part II. I enjoyed and appreciated the first part, but it is the long paragraph that kicks off Part II that blew my mind, when the "Father" returns from Peary's North Pole Expedition in 1909 only to find that the world has changed. From there, evidence of change through subtle mention of duplication, replication, multiplication and repetition, and then that amazing passage where high-minded financier J.P. Morgan invites lowbrow assembly-line specialist Henry Ford to dinner.

In a section relevant to what is happening in America today, Doctorow writes of striking mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the strike committee's decision to send the children of these workers to board with families in Boston, New York and Philadelphia until the strike is over. "The mill owners of Lawrence realized that of all the stratagems devised by the workers this one, the children's crusade, was the most damaging." Following this, a harrowing scene where police show up at the Lawrence train station and endanger strikers and children alike.

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