Understanding E. L. Doctorow takes the reader through Doctorow's fiction, from his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times (1960), through the ambitious Ragtime (1975) to his latest, Billy Bathgate (1989). Doctorow has produced new imaginative forms and invented fresh voices for each of his eight novels. Douglas Fowler describes Doctorow's work in terms of the author's intentions, inventions, politics, creation of voice, taste for melodrama, and character types. According to Fowler, a fantastic and brutal incursion into the commonplace almost always provides the highly charged environment in which Doctorow's novels are set, and there is often a lurid gleam of the macabre in the worlds he creates. Doctorow is a tale-teller with a lesson to teach about America and the century of her ascendancy—and her decline. This study emphasizes that in reading Doctorow's fiction the family—biological or ad hoc—is the source of his deepest fascination and sympathy.
Douglas Fowler is a professor of English at Florida State University. He received his B.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University where he won literary competitions in fiction, playwriting, and poetry. His other books include Reading Nabokov, A Reader's Guide to Gravity's Rainbow, S. J. Perelman, and Ira Levin.