Thursday, 13 December 2001

E.L. Doctorow: Loon Lake (1980)

Edition: Random House, 1980 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1013

One of Doctorow's more experimental novels, Loon Lake presents a bewildering collection of different techniques: traditional narratives, stream of consciousness, poetry. It is also a novel which continually reminds the reader of others, possibly an easy way for an author to put himself in the tradition of the great American novel; among those which are brought to mind are The Grapes of Wrath and the USA trilogy.

Loon Lake, a retreat for millionaire industrialist F.W. Bennett in the 1920s, is the central setting of the novel. Young hobo Joe turns up there, entranced by a woman seen through the windows of a private railway carriage. There too is poet Warren Penfield, Bennett's pensioner; as the novel follows Joe's path after he meets Bennett and leaves Loon Lake, so too in parallel it describes Penfield's journey there. (The mixed up chronology contributes to the experimental feeling of the novel.)

A difficult read, with even the most traditional parts of the narrative flipping between first and third person, Loon Lake is also atmospheric and interesting for a reader prepared to make the effort.

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