“She hated these treacherous days when winter felt like Spring. They made the lines come out on her face, made everything seem to crumble about her, there seemed to be no firm footing any more.” (The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos)
“Newsreel XI: I’m going to Maxim’s/ Where fun and frolic beams/ With all the girls I’ll chatter/I’ll laugh and kiss and flatter.” (The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos)
Passos writes a broad, wide-ranging book that attempts to capture America between 1910-1930. He chronicles the childhoods and fortunes of at least five different people with diverse economic backgrounds and political aspirations (though all the same race). He treats those characters who never get out of the working class gently and sympathetically while at the same time reveling in the downfall and dehumanization of those who find success. The broadly sketched stories are divided by excerpts of pop culture songs and brief biographies, which are written in an experimental, stream-of-consciousness style that gives more consideration to tone and feeling than grammar or sense.
I’ve read books that intersperse excerpts and interludes between the meat of the story to great effect, like 2312 or The Grapes of Wrath, but here the excerpts’ styles disrupt the story arch without adding a larger context or focusing the work. The 42nd Parallel‘s interludes require that the reader already knew enough about American history to deduce what a scrap of newspaper means from only a few words, or that we feel comfortable switching between smooth narrative prose and choppy almost-poetry. Though technically a novel, I would feel more comfortable recommending this work to history buffs or scholars rather than lovers of of story or prose.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Doesn’t really end, the U.S.A. Trilogy should probably be treated as one book with random breaking points
Further Reading: This turned out to be not quite my type of book, but if you liked it, you could go in a lot of directions with Pure American History.