Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Waterworks

Well, I'm back to London. After a blissful month of doing no work whatsoever (thank you wonderful Phoenix people), I was thrown into the strange and stressful world of having to complete my piano concerto in a week. Outside, it looked like this:

but instead of playing in the snow, I could only huddle in front of my computer — check a phrase or two at the piano — back to the computer — and so on. My world was lit by the glow of the screen. After several coffee-riddled nights and bleary days, it is indeed complete, and I'm not entirely unhappy with it. We'll see how that opinion stands up to performance.

Despite the immersive week, I somehow managed to finish reading E. L. Doctorow's The Waterworks. I admit that I'm not unbiased — I'm already an avid fan of Doctorow. Still, I was worried at the beginning. The thing takes so long to get off the ground, I was starting to worry whether it ever would.

Having finished it, though, I'm so glad I stuck through the first 60-or-so pages. What a novel. Even with a plot that is less-than-blockbuster material, it doesn't matter because the writing is so pristine. Somehow the mediocre plot gives way to the most fully-formed characters I've ever read, and, more importantly, to an entire era. The 1871 of The Waterworks is somehow strangely more convincing than the 1871 of Mark Twain — characters wrestle with post-Civil War problems and debate the new scientific discoveries of the era.

In a way, it's difficult to sum up. It's a small book, 250 easy pages, but feels immense and complete. It deals with few characters, yet by the end a whole culture — including me — are caught up in its sweeping themes. It's not a masterpiece, but it's close enough that I still eagerly await my next Doctorow read.

1 comment:

Emma said...

Oooh Tom, it sounds like I am going to have to read it! I just finished Ragtime myself...