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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Is The March Doctorow's best novel?

I have read relatively little of the late E.L. Doctorow's works, mainly because I'm not drawn to historical fiction, although also realizing he wrote historical fiction in a nearly unique way, playing fairly loosely with historic figures and enjoying the interplay of the real and the fictive; decided on learning of his death to take a look at the novel that many - as the NYT obit noted, including Updike whom I revere - take as his best novel (Updike, famously, was not a fan of much else he wrote - which might lead you to think he'd be a poor judge of Doctorow's best, but others concur). So started The March last night, wondering if really there is anything more to say or write about the Civil War - and finding myself very taken by and impressed with the first few chapters at least - each of which shows a different take on the ravages of Sherman's march through Georgia toward the end of the war. The writing is excellent, as he really captures the sense of panic, terror, as troops march through the South disrupting lives, stealing rampantly, killing almost randomly. I am a little troubled, thus far (only about 35 pp in, granted), and the focus on the the white Southern "victims," with little attention paid to the true victims, the enslaved blacks - but I suspect the scope will get ever wider as I read further on; I actually wonder if there will be too much material, if the novel will maintain a focus - can't see the design yet, so don't know if every section will introduce a new vignette - or if we will follow several lead characters incrementally over time - or even if the plots will overlap and intersect. That said, the scene of the harrowing of Milledgeville, the daughter of the Supreme Court Justice wandering the streets looking for a physician as fires burn, soldiers drink and carouse, and at the hospital she sees a steaming mass of amputated limbs - one of many powerful sequences in the first pages.

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