Attempting to tackle Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy in one week, Thanksgiving week, nonetheless, was quite a challenge and has put my “book a week” schedule a tad behind, however, this phenomenal masterpiece (yes, I am singing its praises) was worth the eyestrain and resulting bloodshot eyes.
I wrestled with the idea of giving the 1200+ page tome three weeks reading time since U.S.A. consists of three novels; The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, however, since Modern Library listed it singly and it was highly recommended to read as one, I held myself to task.
U.S.A. takes the reader from the east to the west with stops in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and on to Fargo, North Dakota and out to Hollywood, California. Contrary to its title, there are also tales set in Paris, France, Italy and Cuba.
Dos Passos manages to cover an array of subjects including social inequality, sexual promiscuity, abortion, suicide, prohibition, the stock market and more without haranguing the reader.
There are twelve central characters in U.S.A., all introduced as children and we see them leave home and attempt to find their way in the U.S.A. as they deal with love and betrayal, birth and death, purpose and loneliness. While some of the characters and stories are interwoven, there are not always neat and happy endings. In fact, some characters are hinted to be in failing health, yet we don’t get the answers to our speculations.
I was not so crazy about some of the little extras in the book; Newsreel listed actual headlines from the time period, Camera Eye was stream of consciousness (not my cup of tea) said to be autobiographical, and Bios of actual figures from the time. Although relevant, the sheer volume of the trilogy made it difficult to appreciate the additional text.
Charley Anderson is a mechanic who makes it big, yet struggles with fitting in and turns to alcohol which eventually has devastating consequences.
Margo Dowling is a tenacious gal who faces obstacles from the very start, when her mother dies in childbirth and her father turns to booze. Her stepmother remarries a cad who rapes her and she flees with a Cuban who is a drug addicted homosexual, but she eventually makes it to Hollywood and becomes a star, albeit, short-lived once the silent movies are given “voice”.
Someone should make this into a mini-series! I’m sure people would get hooked on the story lines and lovable and loathsome characters and hopefully be compelled to read the book.
I would love, love, love to spend some time with Mr. Dos Passos. He most certainly could tell some wonderful tales and I’d love to hear about his travels throughout the world. If he were to share his expertise with crafting both dialogue and descriptives, I would be in heaven.
My rating for U.S.A. is a 10 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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