Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Recently I completed John Dos Passo’s “USA” trilogy, which I received as a gift last year in a single volume. Together, the three novels represent a compelling character sketch of the United States during the first three decades of the 20th century, when America was awakening to its growing power and reveling in its seemingly endless prosperity. Dos Passos advances his episodic narrative through several meticulously drawn characters that span the gamut of Jazz Age archetypes: the flapper, the revolutionary, the industrialist, the speculator, etc. Dos Passos uses his characters’ intertwined lives to explore America’s dark side—its racial and economic inequalities; its sexual hypocrisies and double-standards; and its imperialistic ambitions. The books are rounded out with pointed biographical sketches of real-life figures from the era, and Dos Passos uses the “Newsreel” and often confusing “Camera Eye” sections to enhance the books’ historic perspective.