Midcentury

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Another entry from National Review's list of "Ten Great Conservative Novels". Five down, five to go. I was able to find a second-printing copy in the dark and remote shelves of the Dimond Library of the University Near Here; it appears to be out of print, but Amazon has a thriving used market for it.

The author, John Dos Passos (1896-1970), flirted with left-wingism in his early career, but was apparently too much of an realistic individualist to go full Commie. (His reaction to the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War caused a breakup with his former buddy Ernest Hemingway.) Later in his life he voted for Nixon and Goldwater; it's out of that mindset that Midcentury was written.

The structure of the book is (so-called) "nonlinear", with multiple stories intertwined with biographical sketches of actual people, and amusingly-juxtaposed snippets of news stories and advertisements (I assume also real). Dos Passos was a major developer of this technique; it must have been revolutionary at the time.

The biographical sketches are snappy and interesting. Some are famous (Eleanor Roosevelt, James Dean, Jimmy Hoffa…). A couple I had never heard of: Robert R. Young and William F. Dean. (I'm kind of ashamed about not knowing about Dean.)

The fiction bits mostly concern organized labor, with characters on both sides: an old Wobbly reminisces about his colorful life from the bed of a Veterans Administration hospital; a small businessman tries to set up a rival cab company in a small city. Dos Passos's picture of Big Labor is largely unflattering: a smattering of good eggs, mostly ground down by the corrupt.


Last Modified 2015-08-06 6:46 AM EDT