Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book 68- The USA Trilogy (104th book)

The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos was the 68th book on the list and it took me two and a half months to finish. This makes this the book that has taken me the most time to complete in the challenge so far. Technically, this trilogy is actually THREE novels, but since they are inherently tied together I can forgive Daniel S. Burt for only making them one novel on the list. Although this is the book of the month for August I am just now finishing the books and the review in October.

I am not sure why I struggled with these novels since I actually quite liked the novels every time I read them. Perhaps my main struggle with them was that I read them in the dog days of summer and I really wanted to be doing light summer reading. (I was also reading a book about 19th century magicians at the same time which seemed infinitely more interesting than this massive overview of American culture!) It might have also had something to do with the fact that the novel is partially set doing the First World War and the period following, which, if you follow my blog you will know that I hate.

This novel has a truly interesting structure which can be hard to follow. Thankfully I had read up on the USA trilogy in the Novel 100 so I learned about the structures and found them interesting.

  • There are several characters the novel follows who are average everyday citizens. Their life is hard and the characters are realistic in how they handle their trials
  • There are several biographies of famous people as well. In contrast, these are heroic and often have repetitive phrases throughout them to emphasis the one one point the person is known for
  • There is a section called the Camera Eye which is a stream of consciousness account of John Dos Passos life
  • There is also a section called the Newsreel which involves headlines from several major newspapers around the time that the novel is set. Some of these show realistic snapshots of events that affect the novel's characters, other simply help to give a picture of the times.
I think the thing that stands out for me about this novel is that the characters are very real to life. They seem very authentic and as a result are very likeable. They are all represented as fallible and seem to struggle with life while having moments of joy. I think if this novel had attempted to cover the same period in a different way that the book would have been rather dry. There are some characters I liked better than other and their are some of the books that I liked better than others. I liked The Big Money and The 42nd Parallel far better than 1919 for instance.

The other thing I liked about this novel was that it brought me into contact with a great Vancouver used bookstore called MacLeods. The ugly novel cover featured in this review was the covers of 2 of the 3 books that I picked up for this challenge. I had always heard about this institution but had taken to mostly visiting the cute counterpart across the street called The Paperhound. This bookstore is a maze of novels stacked as far as the eye can see although there is some semblance of order it helps to find things if you have help from the store owners. They were knowledge about all books and gave me an overview of what I was getting myself into.  Since this is a trilogy I would have had to purchase three separate books and even at Kobo digital prices they would have been $13 each. Thankfully, I was able to find 2 of the 3 novels used for $5 a piece. The first novel I had to buy on Kobo.

The next thing I liked about this book was that even though the novel was told from several  completely different characters points of view at times the characters lives intersected. You would see some characters from their own perspective and then also read about them from another's perspective when they interacted with someone else. This was very cool concept and reminded me a little bit of Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. I was also reminded of this novel since the USA Trilogy also covered the "wobblies" or union men from the same period as Against the Day.

For the next novel I get back to the roots of why I started this challenge in the first place, reading free books on my Kobo. The next novel is Hunger by Knut Hamsun and I already have it loaded on my Kobo and ready to go. Perhaps I can get myself back on track and make up for lost time!

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