Tuesday, 15 January 2002

E.L. Doctorow: Lives of the Poets (1984)

Edition: Michael Joseph, 1985 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1039

This collection, one novella and six short stories, is connected because all its contents are written in the first person and read as though they are selections from autobiographies. (The plural is because they are mutually contradictory, even though they share details and anecdotes.)

The title story is the novella, and is a memoir of the New York literary scene, all about the marital difficulties of middle aged couples in the late seventies. The narrator of the story is one of the few who fave remained faithful to their partners though this seems to be more because of his absorption in his hypochondria than for any moral scruples.

Of the other stories, The Waterworks deserves mention because it was later adapted into an episode in the novel of the same name. It is the most individual member of this collection, being the only one with a setting in a past not within living memory. It also seems less real than the other stories, as Doctorow tries out a rather different voice.

The general standard is nevertheless high, as might be expected from Doctorow. He doesn't have so much to say in the short story form, with the result that the collection is a little purposeless; but each story is exquisitely crafted.

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