Sunday, May 8, 2011

All the Time in the World' by E.L. Doctorow

Author E.L. Doctorow (accent on first syllable) may have All the Time in The World, but I don’t. I listened to the audible version of this book during a recent drive to Alpine, and if it hadn’t been on my iPhone, I would have thrown it out the window. Apparently the NY Times reviewer Jess Row and I are the only people in the world who don’t love this book, which is a collection of new and previously published short stories. Row said it well: "A great short story has to function like a black hole, demanding our entire attention, drawing all available light into itself, but Doctorow’s energies are too diffuse and variegated to achieve that effect often."

In a nutshell, All The Time In The World is stream of consciousness writing about despicable characters. Doctorow even admits, "You write to find out what you're writing." One reviewer called it “willfully obscure.”

My sensitivities were put on high alert when in the preface Doctorow said he didn’t believe "…stories collected in a volume have to have a common mark, or tracer, to relate to one another."  Then he said he didn’t believe that they needed to have a resolution or an ending, which sounded like a warning, and it was. Re: despicable characters – granted, characters don’t have to be likable, but I do think that you have to care about who they are, what they’re doing and why. I didn’t. Well, except for the serial husband killer and her accomplice son. They were interesting, in a villainous sense. Click on Read More Below...

Admittedly Doctorow had moments of writing brilliance, for example:
"Some vast — what to call it? — indifference … slowly creeps up on you with age … becomes more insistent with age. It's a kind of wearing out, I suppose. As if life had become threadbare, with the light peeking through."

The first story, ‘Wakefield,’ about a suburban dwelling attorney who decides to drop out of his life, and ends up hiding and living in his garage attic, was a titillating premise. But the story failed because even though he came and went for a year, he was never discovered, which was implausible. But again, the writing kept it from being a total bomb. "People will say that I left my wife and I suppose, as a factual matter, I did, but where was the intentionality? I had no thought of deserting her. It was a series of odd circumstances that put me in the garage attic with all the junk furniture and the raccoon droppings…"

It also bothered me that he had zero regard for the impact on his wife and children, and that felt soulless. “That was Doctorow’s purpose dumb ass,” said one my book club gals. “He wanted to rile you up and he did.”


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