three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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0

missing imageFor more than half a century, E. L. Doctorow has been the standard-bearer for American literary fiction and one of the nation's most frequently honored talents. His novels, which examine the individual's place in history, include The Book of Daniel (1971), Ragtime (1975), World's Fair (1985), Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March ( 4.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2005). All the Time in the World is the author's third collection of short fiction, after Lives of the Poets (1984) and Sweet Land Stories (2004).

The Story: All the Time in the World collects a dozen stories--half of them published for the first time in this volume--that run the gamut of human experience--from a refiguring of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Wakefield" to a cult member in denial ("Walter John Harmon") to a story written completely in dialogue ("Edgemont Drive") to "Heist," a story that became the kernel for Doctorow's novel City of God (2000). Despite the collection's seeming randomness, there's a method to the author's madness. Doctorow's intent, he writes, is to present the spectrum of characters who are "distinct from their surroundings--people in some sort of contest with the prevailing world."
Random House. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400069637.

Miami Herald 4.5 of 5 Stars
"All the Time in the World features six new stories as well as other Doctorow classics, and they're all distinctive, sharply focused, glistening with crisp language. ... Savor All the Time in the World for its elegance, its intuition and for Doctorow's understanding of the complexity of the human drama." Connie Ogle

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At the emotional heights of this book, you communicate less with Doctorow than with the presiding god of the world of the story. ... The effect is egoless, frank, spontaneous and altogether wonderful." Salvatore Scibona

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Never as simple as they seem on the surface, [Doctorow's] stories are full of paradox and good humor with a sometimes caustic underbelly; they're absurd in a funny sort of way. He reveals the quirks of our society in the kind of stories others can only aspire to write." Joseph Peschel

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"The mystery, tension and shock Doctorow is known for are all here in this collection. If you're a fan you will not be disappointed in the new, and happy to be reacquainted with the old." Craig Wilson

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps nowhere is [a sense of disconnection] more vividly expressed than in ‘Wakefield,' the best of the new pieces and one of the finest stories Doctorow has composed. ... If this is the subtext of much of All the Time in the World, here Doctorow makes it explicit and deeply moving, not because it is so odd but because it is so common, as if the scrim of civilization were just that: a veil, an illusion, a set of conventions that might dissipate at any moment, given the right kind of push." David L. Ulin

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fortunately, [the author] rarely misfires, and he leavens what could be gloomy subject matter with wit. ... Doctorow prefaces the new collection by saying he doesn't expect readers to see the ‘light' that guided his selection and sequencing of the stories, but it shines vividly and creates a distinctive, sometimes disturbing constellation bright enough to warrant the repackaging of so much previously published material." John G. Rodwan, Jr.

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"The stories in All the Time in the World come from Doctorow's middle and late career, and it's easy to see--as many critics have said before--that the short form is not his strongest. ... As a title, All the Time in the World is, in this sense, exactly wrong: these stories never have the breadth and breath--the expansiveness of novelistic time--they need." Jess Row

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"Short stories are a poor fit for [Doctorow]. The self-announcing assertiveness he speaks of all but crowds out any countercurrent of nuance." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

One of America's most respected living writers, E. L. Doctorow has won his share of the major awards (the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award, among others), and his work is often compared to that of Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, and Kurt Vonnegut--the titans of post–World War II fiction. Still, the short form isn't Doctorow's forte (the two previous story collections pale beside his better-known novels), which makes the relative success of All the Time in the World that much more of a pleasant surprise. In fact, the six new pieces read as well as the previously published work, a hopeful sign that, even into his 80s, Doctorow has genius to spare.