Monday, 12 June 2000

John dos Passos: The Big Money (1936)

Edition: Penguin
Review number: 524

The final volume of dos Passos' USA trilogy deals with the book of the mid twenties, ending with the stock market crash. The theme is making money, big money, through industries that took off in that decade (aircraft manufacture, film), set against the usual background of labour relations.

The stricture of The Big Money is like that of The 42nd Parallel and Nineteen Nineteen, with the alternation of contrasting documentary and narrative sections. The weaknesses are also alike, particularly in plot and characterisation, and since dos Passos has further expanded the fictional sections, these weaknesses are yet more apparent.

All in all, I expected far more from this trilogy than it actually delivered, because I really liked novels which imitate it, like Stand on Zanzibar. It rather bored me, and towards the end I kept going mainly by thinking "just 150 pages to go". The idea is good, but the execution deeply flawed.

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