Librarian Laura's Reviews > The 42nd Parallel

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
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's review
May 15, 2012

it was ok
Read from May 14 to 21, 2012

I can see why John Dos Passos was such a highly revered author by his peers. His scope is immense, his writing unique, and his ambitions high. But for the same reason, I can see why his works haven't survived as well as some of his contemporaries.

Unlike many others who have reviewed this book, the parts I found most engaging was the Newsreels, fragments from headlines and songs great and small, put together in a seemingly random order. I looked over these many times, trying to make sense of them, to put together a story, to get a sense of place and time and mood. This unconventional style of writing and editing is, to me, the strongest part of the book.

The bulk of the book I found lacking. Though initially I was interested in the characters that he introduced and followed as they grew up and started to make their way in the world, around the time that each character became independent, I lost interest. I found myself digusted and repulsed by them, or the choices they made. I got annoyed with the constant struggle, the repeated theme that so many of the characters took: bum to a new town, try and find work, mess around, leave the town, try and find work somewhere else.

I know the world that Dos Passos was living in, and I know the tradition that he wrote in, and the beliefs he held, and that he was part of a group of writers who were disgusted by the struggle against capitalism in America, but didn't want to abandon the country, wanted to find a part of it that they could survive in. But for me to enjoy a book, I need more than themes. I need to care about the characters, and there was not a time while reading The 42nd Parallel that I really cared.
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