Monday, October 15, 2012

The Book of Daniel - E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow (1931-)

There are very few times I have refused to finish a book. Mostly because I'm compulsive and I will do almost anything to cross something off a list and if it involves 16 hours of pain and be it. And also, mostly because Harold Bloom has complete control of my life...

I have suffered through the entire Rabbit Run series, Portnoy's Complaint ect. I have read about weird peccadilloes of all kinds...but I draw the line at a wife-beating protagonist who justifies his aggression and hostility against his wife by the fact that a) his parents were executed for being communists (loosely based on Ethel and Julius Rosenburg), b) there is no place for Jews in American society, they are isolated, unwanted and undefended against the aggression of the masses, c) he married intellectually beneath him and since he can't take his anger out on the amorphous society that surrounds him and has destroyed his life, he might as well take it out on his wife. He will humiliate her and overpower her, proving his strength to the wrong witness.

Here I was whining that "World's Fair" seemed written by a child, (which I guess was the point) and how it lacked heart and depth....and then I start reading "The Book of Daniel" which has quite a few crossing themes, both fathers work in radio/music stores, both families are poor, both grandmothers are afraid of being poisoned and both mother's must taste their food before they will agree to eat it...but while "The World's Fair" is a slow laborious plot line..."The Book of Daniel" jumps in to a frenetic rambling, the narrative shifting from first person to third person sometime mid paragraph.  

I think what contributes to making this book horrible is the post-modern quest for truth is a world where truth is no longer definitive. Daniel, who is writing his thesis on the murder of his parents, is constantly trying to rehash what has happened, looking for clues that will lead to a sense of order and cohesion is a world of chaos and entropy. His writing has the split personality style that tries to look at truth from all angles and perspectives, that ultimately leaves the author soulless and void of substance.

I found this review  and a tiny part of me wishes I could make it to the end simply because of how great this review was...but...I can't do it.

Anyway, I'm crossing this off the list even though I only read half of prove my autonomy from Harold Bloom...


  1. It's your loss. A great, great novel. Not being able to bring yourself to finish reading the book because you find the narrator's behavior repulsive? Have you tried reading "Crime and Punishment"? The Russian dude murders an old lady. What kind of novelistic trash is that?

  2. Hi David. Thanks for your comment - I always love the opportunity to discuss books!

    I have read Dostoevsky and am no stranger to graphic deaths, (I think the constant flow of brain matter in "The Song of Roland" was a little intense...) sinister villains, and weird sexual fetishes (everything by John Updike)...I guess for me, and it is really a personal and completely subjective opinion, I have a hard time with an entitled protagonist burning his wife with cigarette lighters and essentially raping her in front of their small child in the back seat of the car. That kind of pushed my limits...

    What is is about this book that you loved? Was there something about the narrative or character study you found to be intriguing? Maybe if you can work up a good defense I'll give it another try.


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