Comments for Ragtime
As a kid growing up in the 1970s — 1980s, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow was one of those books that all adults my parents' age seemed to have a copy of. As a teenager it was also one of the books I borrowed from my parents from the shelf of books they had pretty much forgotten about but kept just because.
Ragtime takes place in New Rochelle, New York at the turn of the last century. It involves the way the twentieth century heralded in a bunch of stuff we now take for granted (like automobiles, electricity, and other modern conveniences). But it's also a product of its era, a decade when it seems every book was trying to out do every other book for the amounts of depravity included in the name of art and literature.
So as a naive teen living in a San Diego suburb, most of the sex went over my head. The sex parts are actually so dryly written, that it's no surprise that I missed most of it except to have a gut feeling that it was there. (I didn't miss the sex in Philip José Farmer's stuff, though, but that's a different blog post.)
This time around, re-reading it as an adult, it wasn't the sex that made me put the book aside. No. It was all the white privilege, specially the rich, white, privilege. The book opens with a long and dull passage about what life was like near the house in New Rochelle. It's all idyllic because it was only rich white people. There were no poor and no immigrants and no people of color.
So it seems the message of Ragtime is that all the modern conveniences and entertainment comes with a price. That is, rich white folk have to learn to live with everyone else (while, of course, still running the show and saving everything for themselves, but hey! it's progress, right?). And all of this is presented with horrendously dull passages with labored descriptions and painful attempts at allusion.