Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The U.S.A. Trilogy - John Dos Passos

The U.S.A. Trilogy
Title: The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money
Author: John Dos Passos
Publication Date:1937
Pages: 1312
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 2/16/16

Summary: Dos Passos examines characters and events both real and fictional through vignettes, partial news reports, and "camera eye" segments. All comes together to paint a picture of a distinct era in history.

What I Thought: This tome is one of the longest books on the 100 Best Novels list. Technically, it's three books. For the sake of the list, however, I am counting it as one. Plus, I was able to pick it up from my local library with all three books published in one edition, which was quite helpful.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. As you know if you've been around long, World War era novels do not usually do it for me. I think, however, Dos Passos really focused on characters and their personal stories rather than entrenching himself in the minutia of battles and armament. And continually hopping from one character to another kept me engaged. If there was a particularly storyline in which I was less interested, I knew I only had to hang on for a bit and it would transition into something else.

The Newsreel section were particularly interesting to be as Dos Passos used them to drop in tiny nuggets of real life history and information. It kept the story grounded in reality, I felt. The Camera Eye sections, however, were my least favorite. I tend to struggle more with stream of consciousness writing and this was it on a Ulysses level at points. Thankfully, they were short and mostly unrelated to the main plots. 

The vignettes themselves were interesting. I liked the variety of characters and lifestyles Dos Passos presented. The stories were even a bit scandalous for the time, though Dos Passos does not get graphic. It was fascinating to me that, in these sections, he could write so fluidly and create beautiful prose while simultaneously countering it with the choppy Camera Eye and Newsreel sections.

I enjoyed this one, despite its length. Some sections certainly could have been shortened or condensed. When you consider that technically these are three books, however, the length makes more sense and is easier to stomach. All in all, a pleasant surprise. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read:Maybe
If You Liked This Try: An American Tragedy / Main Street / Winesburg, Ohio

A Reduced Review: Composed of biographical vignettes and unstructured news reports, this trilogy came as a pleasant surprise to me.

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