Review: 'All The Time In The World'

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E.L. Doctorow, author of the novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, is a master of the long-form narrative. But his latest effort, called All the Time in the World, is a collection of short fiction.


E.L. Doctorow, author of the novels "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate," is a master of the long-form narrative. But his latest effort, called "All the Time in the World," is a collection of short fiction.

Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says once you immerse yourself in these stories, you'll wish you had all the time in the world.

ALAN CHEUSE: Short stories should reveal something new to us about the main character and the world. That's the conventional wisdom about short fiction. And E.L. Doctorow works with that tradition in this collection of stories.

He provides the reader with the sense that by the end of any of his short narratives he'll reveal new things to us about the character's life, and with a little luck, about our own.

That's what happens in the story "Willi." An old man recalls the murderous family incident in his childhood that changed his life forever. And in "Wakefield," we meet a conventional suburban commuter who decides he's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He abandons his family and hides in plain sight in a room above the family garage.

In "The Writer in the Family," the most conventional of these stories and in many ways the most resonant, Doctorow gives a sharp account of how a budding artist, residing in the bosom of his family in the New York City borough of the Bronx, discovers his great literary powers.

But all these stories work on another level, revealing news about the world, yes, but also revealing the mysteries that lie at the heart of human behavior.

In the title story, set in the heart of Manhattan, the narrator notices the beauty in the everyday with a sharpness that makes every page a revelation. A shaft of sunlight lights up the street, he says, from a crack in the black sky. The clouds blow off, the air is all at once warm and humid. Water drips from the apartment house canopies, gurgling rivulets run along the curbstone. I feel, he says, as if I've risen from one element to another.

Read these fine stories, and you may find that you'll have that same feeling.

NORRIS: E.L. Doctorow's new collection of short fiction is called "All the Time in the World." Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. His new novel is called "Song of Slaves in the Desert."

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