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- Pwched comfortably atop the - lists of best-selling works o( fiction, I .L. Doctorow's cafcfully measured trestment of the formative years of - -"" Jiis century in America enjoys the additional -- and more telling - distinction of being .1 delightfuily v. ruten work of high American art. Whfle the secrel ol its financial success may well lie in a promotiotial campaign conceived .is carefully and executed jn relentlessly as the novel i t sel t Ragtime's artistic strength clearly sprintis irom the - autluir's stricl ailherence to the sironji rliyllimic thrust of the music lor which the book is named, and from liis happy cemmittmem to an eouBy sirone humanistic perspeclive which hrinys us an America, to quote Mjlcolm . "as seen.through - theeyesof a victim." Ragtime begins as the story of a white, middle-class, upwardly mobile Family based in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1902. The falher and the wife's younger brothei are engaced in the manufacture of fliigs. luintitií; and fireworks; the fat het is ulso an amateur explorei who accompanies lVrry on his . trok to the north polo during the l'irst pari oí the book. rtusjourney, defining the last American frontier, signáis the end of Amer ka's al'ihty to expand past ïts lerna! contradictions ín order in keep trom confronting mem, ind mal mosi busic American contradiction -- tscism SOOI1 becomw the central focus of ihe honk. The aspect of Doctorow s approoch which li. is fascina ted ;i treal manj critica - is his inclusión of several "histofical pergonalmei Henry I ord, Hany Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Goldman, Sigmund I remi, amona others -- .1-. they touch upon the lives oj lus "normal" characters, include .i Jcwish immigrant peilillci .nul lus daughtei and the black ragtim pianist 'oallionsi' Walker. Jr., lus lovei and theli chfld. 01 coune the greal m erican faicination w itb L-Hebritie oi anj stripe and theii fabled . ence i ;i world madi np mik oi other cclcbiiiics jtvet ilns critical preoccupation . Hollywood Reporter iw hit, hile whal stru k ihis readei came from the oppoiite direction : first, lluil the particular porsnnalitics wett choien by the authoi to illustrate the exteni to uluili the fïcüonal characten' liws were sh.ipetl hv the majoi Torces pf 2Oth Centur) America (the maM-Droduction of hiles, the art ofetcaping, the tormalion il inanl [rusls. the revolutionary movement, psychoanalysit, etc. ): and. tecond, that the penoiu behiod these social lorces were luimatis. actual pcople who exisieil in the workj of daily lite and casually inteiacted with their contemporaries. i.e.. olher huinMJS, to produce subtle personal effectl as well. l.ike ja niiisu and the seminal black American con&ciousnesl tumi ■vhich it has flowed, Doctorow's Ragtime is ■ complex, intricately dssijtned, defiantly userttve creabon t stntcturcd imptovisation Inch can be stunnine in ils tmnact. l auote Ironi book'l jacket topy, which tor once is nol oversuted, "It is ;i novel so original, so l'ull of imagination and subtle frteasure, Hul In .tfs. nbe il tiirtllcr svould onlv düute tilo puro joy ol rcudiii;! . H " WeH put,dei _ readers. John - Sinclair .3TW ,tJ