John Dos Passos : U.S.A.

Ludington, Townsend Jr. & Aaron, Daniel

BOOKS IN REVIEW - "John Dos Passos : U.S.A." U.S.A. Today: Dos Passos Reconsidered John Dos Passos: U.S.A. Edited by Townsend Ludington, Jr. and Daniel Aaron Library o fAmerica 11,288 pages 1$40 REVIEWED B Y Thomas Mallon .. D os' 1919...

...It was rough but redeemable (by socialism), and it left even a critical observer more awestnick than sour...
...Sixty years after its completion, U.S.A...
...The "Camera Eyes" are the worst, swatches of avant-garde kitsch (what's more quaint than "modernism...
...Here is Dos Passos recalling the Russo-Japanese war from his own eight-year-old's point of view: "and we played the battle of Port Arthur in the bathtub and the water leaked down through the drawingroom ceiling Be prepared for life's little contingencies, with...
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...It's a magnificent tragic show," he says...
...trilogy made it clear that John Dos Passos (1896-1970) was "no longer a promising writer but as arrived as he can ever be-like Lewis Or Dreiser...
...and Daniel Aaron Library o fAmerica 11,288 pages 1$40 REVIEWED B Y Thomas Mallon .. D os' 1919 is knocking people cold," Dawn Powell admit ted to her diary, %% ith a touch of envy, in March of 1932 The reception of the second novel in his U.S.A...
...you know what I mean, not to get to he a goddarn slavedriver but for socialism and the revolution an' like that...
...We do not refund postage...
...author of a faurous pamphlet in defense of Sacco and Vanretti), but the America he chronicled was never the one despised by latter-day radicals...
...Never much skilled at the cre ation of characters (try to name one), Dos Passos preferred to concentrate on the churning panorama of America between McKinley and Hoover...
...L Yet, in its small body it carries some implements that'll come in handy in life's little contingencies...
...he less enlightened Joe, a big galoot of a merchant mariner, exists mostly to be knocked around by the capitalist system...
...in a single massive volume, the Library of America treats Dos Passos to the literary equivalent of video release...
...For the vaguely left-leaning Dick and some of his friends, the Great War seems like a drunken lark, their months at the Peace Conference a junior year abroad...
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...are a couple of extra surprises: a small pair of tweezers and a permanent "ivory toothpick...
...76 November 19 9 6 - The American Spectator ter-who in 1915 tells the boss about the torpedoing of her brother's ship and hears him respond with some words "about being patriotic and saving civilization and the historic beauties of Rheims cathedral...
...Eleanor Stoddard is a Chicago stockyard-worker's daughter who will lie to herself and anyone else as she claws upward through art classes, a lace shop and a job at Marshall Field's...
...or just his office at the Cravhar Building in New York, where he looks at the ceiling, "his big jowly face as expressionless as a cows," thinking how much more attractive patent medicines would be if they were renamed something else...
...the gods don't love us but we'll die young just the same...
...l''ainy "Mac" McCreary and Joe Will ianrs are the working-class heroes, the first an itinerant printer, book salesman, "pearldiver" (dish washer), Wob bly sympathizer and, finally, bystander to Zapata's rebellion in Mexico...
...With Eve Iine Hutchins, a well-born dilettante from North Shore Drive, she opens a deco rating business and then designs theatrical costumes, an enterprise that soon takes them to New York...
...You have 30-day return privilege, in the unlikely case that you won't be fully pleased...
...in which the author, through a lot of unpunctuated Joycean singsong, remembers the way he saw things himself...
...His faithful secretary is °. Janey Williams-Joe's sis THOMAS MALLON'S new novel, Dewey Defeats Truman (Pantheon), will be published in January...
...We can only accept mail orders, accompanied by check with this offer (no phones, no charge...
...is remembered chiefly for its incidentals, the various "devices" that garnish the main text like elaborate epigraphs...
...The closest Dos Passos comes to an autobiographical analogue is the character Dick Savage, who after Harvard joins the ambulance corps in Europe...
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...The trilogy's sixty-eight "Newsreels," each a page or two long, combine headlines (both serious and tabloid) with snatches of popular song: Germans Beaten at Riga Grateful Parisians Cheer Marshals of France Oh a German officer crossed the Rhine He liked the women and loved the wine Hankypanky parleyvoo PITEOUS PLAINT OF WIFE TELLS OF RIVAL'S WILES The effect must once have been fresh, even dazzling, but at this remove it seems more lazy than enlivening, as if with these quoted scraps Dos Passos had given over the literary creation of time and place to the efficiency experts he elsewhere decries...
...That was when Margo threw an ashtray through the transom...
...uoinmittees in Washington...
...Who said I was sober...
...Believing his own bromides about P.R.'s contri butions to "industrial peace...
...The whole thing comes with a little ring so that you can put the 8 GPK on your key chain...
...Prey to shipwreck, false arrest, unemployment and v.d., he is a sort of walking folk song, a brawler whose literary cousins fill the novels of London and Farrell...
...Vainly pursuing the glamorous Doris Humphries, who would prefer an exiled Russian prince, he winds up unhappily married to someone else and on his way toward ruin and delusion in the arms of Margo Dowling, a minor vaudevillian and eventual Hollywood star, a tough little con artist who prefigures some of the dames in Raymond Chandler and John O'Hara: "They made Savannah late that night and felt so good they got so tight there the manager threatened to run them out of the big old hotel...
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...In The Big Money-even with Wall Street and Prohibition and conspicuous consumption to cover-the author manages to slow down and tell the tale of Charley Anderson at a little more leisurely pace than usual...
...By now he's barely on the syllabus, let alone in anyone's actual fund of reading, but with the issuance of U.S.A...
...Hidden inside (just pull them out...
...the Paris Peace Conference...
...Moorehoiise is the novel's perpetual-motion machine, manufacturing noth iiigoutofnothing...
...In the years leading up to U.S.A., Dos Passos' left-wing credentials were well in order (on the board of New Nlasses...
...First seen at the end of The end Parallel, Charley, a harddrinking, whoring Swede out of Fargo, North Dakota, returns after four hundred pages -having become an air ace in the war-to begin making money in aviation engines and the stock market...
...then a pair of real working scissors...
...letting him join those other two long-since-departed arrivals in a Plciade that now runs to nearly a hundred titles...
...It contains irrrhlenrerrts yon if nerd cecrit day: knife, scissors, nail file, tweezers and looltrpick...
...is nifty Iittle knife is just over two inches Song...
...Dos Passos's "depiction of women," as the academic matriarchy likes to phrase it, is distinctly on the harsh side: there are far more money-mad graspers than ideal ists here...
...since 1967 avephills 77 The American Spectator November 19 9 6...
...In U.S.A...
...And then, after twelve hundred pages, all of them, and a bunch of others besides, are just gone...
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...The whole text is dappled with silly fusions-"downattheheels," "powerfullybuilt"-that seem to reflect some long-ago belief in linguistic progress, like Shavian spelling or Esperanto...
...Given the amount of pages spent on them, Savage and Moorehouse don't come terribly alive, but with the two of them Dos Passos had made an early sighting of an American subspecies for whom adolescence would be a constant instead of a phase...
...He'll never be fully sober again, certainly not when he's gone to New York to work for Moorehouse, indulging himself in the self-pity that starts coming out of him at the end of 1919, just before they bury the Unknown Soldier: "I wish I was hard enough so that I didn't give a damn about anything...
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...the Paris fog smells of strawberries...
...is hard to say just why one set of lit erary characters proves more evanes cent than another, but Dos Passos's were partly suffocated by their packaging...
...I wanta study an' work for things," Mac tells his freight-hopping friend Ike Hall...
...even a put-upon radical like Ben Compton probably means itwhen he says, "It's a great 1 ife i f you don't weaken...
...It's hard to read about these two without thinking how much more Scott Fitzgerald could have done with them, but Dos Passos does manage something essential by making Eleanor the mis s I ess of J. Ward Moorehouse, 1: -, on-the-make public-rela tions pioneer...
...lie shows up at the Mexican revolution...
...ust contrast Dos Passos's nation of immigrants with the one grotesquely imagined in E. Annie Proulx's new novel, Accordion Crimes, where America is less a WPA mural than a Hieronynlous Bosch painting...
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...But a return to U.S.A...
...There is the knife blade, of course...
...reminds one that the main portions of all three novels (Tire 42nd Parallel, igig, The Big Money) are headed with the names of a dozen recurring figures whose individual fortunes carry the narrative and paint the big picture, and one can only begin making sense of this triple-decker with a partial survey of its principal players...
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Vol. 29 • November 1996 • No. 11


 
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