With his U.S.A. trilogy, comprising The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, John Dos Passos is said by many to have written the great American novel. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway were cultivating what Edmund Wilson once called their "own little corners," Dos Passos was taking on the world. Counted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Modern Library and by some of the finest writers working today, U.S.A. is a grand, kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation, buzzing with history and life.
The trilogy opens with The 42nd Parallel, where we find a young country at the dawn of the twentieth century. Slowly, in stories artfully spliced together, the lives and fortunes of five characters unfold. Mac, Janey, Eleanor, Ward, and Charley are caught on the storm track of this parallel and blown New Yorkward. As their lives cross and double back again, the likes of Eugene Debs, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie make cameo appearances.
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"As the Romney-Obama election nears, the book seems even more relevant. Working stiffs looking for a break. Lives are fragmented; relationships are fragmented; education is spotty; morals so-so; definitely racist. Dos Passos does not romanticize the working man. But he does make it clear that, faults and all, he deserves better than he is getting from the corporations and the government. And he does make it clear that the rich are getting more than they deserve from the corporations and the government. Things have obviously improved since 1919, and all those improvement matter. Still, the USA is not an equitable society, and on that score, progress has turned to regress. Dos Passos ends this book with Charley Anderson heading off to drive an ambulance in WWI. I'm going to take a break and then come back to the second book in the trilogy, 1919. Having read a biography of Wilson not too long ago, I'll be interested to hear Dos Passos's take."
carl (5 out of 5 stars)