For a time, this book puzzled me. I know some people revere it and that it won the National Book Award, but I didn’t see the big deal. It seemed to be a kind of detached coming-of-age story, well-done but at the same time unremarkable. At the same time, the World’s Fair hung over the plot, and I wondered if it would become a Godot-like move on Doctorow’s part.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the World’s Fair does show up on stage. And the book absolutely takes off. Transcendent is the word that came to mind. I’ve always loved carnivals and fairs and the like, but it was mostly Doctorow’s writing. I was transported. When Edgar and Meg are almost finished with the Parachute Jump ride – a ride she so desperately wanted to take, though he was reluctant – I found an image for the ages. Edgar thinks they are heading down too rapidly and he closes his eyes. “Then,” he narrates, “we jerked to a stop. And for one moment hung there like pendants from the neck of the night.” Absolutely breathtaking.
And this moment in contrast to the next as well as this visit in contrast with the next – just 60 or so perfect pages, pages that help make the preceding much clearer and pages that will remain in my memory.