Having great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and others, I still don't believe there is a voice in American literature more powerful than E.L. Doctorow's. His historical fiction ranges in time from the crisis of the Civil War to the complexity of modern life in New York, with books such as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, World's Fair and others receiving the highest awards given to a novelist.
I heard Doctorow speak, and even got a bit of help from him during the signing, at the Newberry Library in Chicago on his tour for The March. The book imagines General Sherman's raging assault through the heart of the Civil War South. Someone asked him if he'd read Sherman's personal memoir. He said that he had, but that he mostly studied photographs taken with the newly developed cameras of that era, suggesting that the truth in these pictures was the most essential guide to the details of any historical period. It made me realize that Doctorow's fiction has that same effect on me, giving me a highly detailed and moving picture of the people and places he interprets.
This collection of stories, all published previously in other collections, were placed in sequence for the book by the author himself, apparently as his last contribution to his work's publication before he died on July 21st, 2015. I had read most of these stories, but what a thrill to reread them in the order he chose! We lost one of the greatest when he died.— Tim McCarthy
A superb collection of fifteen stories--including "Wakefield," the inspiration for the film starring Bryan Cranston--by the author of Ragtime, The March, The Book of Daniel, and Billy Bathgate He has been called "a national treasure" by George Saunders. Doctorow's great topic, said Don DeLillo, is "the reach of American possibility, in which plain lives take on the cadences of history." This power is apparent everywhere in these stories: the bravery and self-delusion of people seeking the American dream; the geniuses, mystics, and charlatans who offer people false hope, or an actual glimpse of greatness. In "A House on the Plains," a mother has a plan for financial independence, which may include murder. In "Walter John Harmon," a man starts a cult using subterfuge and seduction. "Jolene: A Life" follows a teenager who escapes her home for Hollywood on a perilous quest for success. "Heist," the account of an Episcopal priest coping with a crisis of faith, was expanded into the bestseller City of God. "The Water Works," about the underbelly of 1870s New York, grew into a brilliant novel. "Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate" is a corollary to the renowned novel and includes Doctorow's revisions. These fifteen stories, written from the 1960s to the early twenty-first century, and selected, revised, and placed in order by the author himself shortly before he died in 2015, are a testament to the genius of E. L. Doctorow. Praise for Doctorow: Collected Stories "Here, without the framework of historical context that defines his best-known novels, we discover a Doctorow equally adept at plumbing the contemporary American psyche and are reminded of literature's loss following his death."--O: The Oprah Magazine "These tales--sketches, really, wide-ranging in time, place and circumstances--are penned by a modern master. . . . What makes Doctorow's historical novels brilliant is their engaging prose, smart writerly style, unconventional narratives and inventive and entertaining plots. Same for these dog-eared, pre-owned stories."--USA Today Praise for E. L. Doctorow "He has rewarded us, these forty-five years, with a vision of ourselves, as a people, a vision possessed of what I might call 'aspirational verve'--he sees us clearly and tenderly, just as we are, but also sees past that--to what we might, at our best, become."--George Saunders "Doctorow did not so much write fiction about history as he seemed to occupy history itself. He owned it. He made it his own."--Ta-Nehisi Coates "On every level, Doctorow's] work is powerful. . . . His sensitivity to language is perfectly balanced, and complemented by a gigantic vision."--Jennifer Egan " He wrote] with such stunning audacity that I can still remember my parents' awed dinner-table conversation, that summer, about a novel they were reading, called Ragtime, that went up to the overgrown wall enclosing the garden of fiction and opened the doorway to history."--Michael Chabon "Doctorow's prose tends to create its own landscape, and to become a force that works in opposition to the power of social reality."--Don DeLillo "A writer of dazzling gifts and boundless imaginative energy."--Joyce Carol Oates
About the Author
E. L. Doctorow's works of fiction include Andrew's Brain, Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World's Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, honoring a writer's lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame and won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, which is given to an author whose "scale of achievement over a sustained career [places] him in the highest rank of American literature." In 2013 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. Doctorow died in 2015.