Thursday, January 19, 2006

The March by E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow is an artist with words. In The March, his novel about the Union campaign through the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina at the end of the American Civil War, he draws a wide and sweeping landscape and fills it with many characters fictional and real. In the center of the story are daughters from plantation families free and slave. Other story lines follow traveling photographers, escaped convicts, an immigrant doctor, infantrymen, and General William Tecumseh Sherman. Through small towns like Milledgeville, plantations, small farms, marshes with quicksand, cities of Savannah and Charlestown, and dark forests, the long blue snake of Union soldiers is followed by desperate civilians. Should any of them look back, they would see a treeless, burned, crop-free, livestock-free, rubble-covered scene.

The March is a nightmare. What is surprising is how sympathetically Doctorow can portray characters who do horrible things. Sherman even seems to be a soul who needs protecting by his aides. The author also puts in a couple of characters who are absolutely crazy, adding much tension to an already gripping story.

An interesting question for a book discussion is "If The March were a play, who would come out last to bow to the audience?" There are many worthy characters, but I would give my vote to Pearl.

I listened to the book read by Joe Morton on unabridged compact discs through errands, chores, and driving to work, finishing the 11 hour reading in five days. If I had not had other obligations, I would have finished sooner. I did not want to stop listening.

It was announced this week that The March is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle fiction award, as is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I would hate to have to choose. I recommend them both.

Doctorow, E. L. The March. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 0375506713

10 compact discs. Westminster, Maryland: Books on Tape, 2005. ISBN 1415924201

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Rick,

Just finished The March. Very compelling.

I am curious about Doctorow's change of voice in at least two places. When the narrator is describing John Jameson's demise and when Sherman and Grant are standing together on the parade platform, the third person changes, without warning, to first person. This breaks the rules, doesn't it?