City of God
by E.L. Docotow
2000 / 288 pages
rating: 6 (mixed) / 21st century fiction (philosophical)
Uff-da. I was totally prepared to dislike this book but I got sucked in with the idea of the cross being stolen and placed on the top of the new Jewish Synagogue. Why?
That question is never answered but Doctorow apparently thinks a lot of others are. I was very confused as to the chronology and the point of view – so it was very difficult for awhile. Then that cleared up, to a point, and I really, really enjoyed the book – for about 100 or so pages. Alas – it was not to last. Doctorow tried to make this book the Great American Novel or something answering all socio-economic-religious and philosophical issues by using a rather slim (and unresolved) plot line in a non-linear chronology with stories and songs within stories infused with free verse poetry.
Meanwhile, Doctorow is hiding behind Everett who is – ta-da -writing a novel. He adds songs and poetry, too, as well as a good sprinkling of sex and violence – with special note given to the Holocaust, not to mention the natural world from the Big Bang to the ants in Central Park.
There’s just too much involved, Doctorow has tried to shove 3 weeks worth of clothing into an overnight bag and the seams split – one reviewer called it a “mishmash.” Yup.
Everett is an “ex-Times reporter” working on a novel about an Episcopalian priest, Thomas Pemberton, and how his alter cross got put on the top of the new Jewish Synagogue. Everett interviews many people and much of the book is comprised of his notes. During the course of these interviews he comes across the story of the rabbi’s wife’s (also a rabbi) father who was in a Nazi ghetto where he wrote a diary which was later lost. And then there’s the movie director whose movies become situations where life imitates art.
There are places where the novel is really good – the Kovno Ghetto, Everett’s revenge, etc. But there are places where the novel is really bad, too – the page after page of heavily detailed descriptive material and the way there are so many unresolved threads.
Bottom line – don’t bother. Doctorow’s Ragtime or his recent books (The March, Homer & Langley) are not great, but they’re much better.