In his criticism, Mark Harris describes a regret; a sorrow, almost, for this once-great
author who has written a book he feels is almost pitiful in it’s lack of clarity and style. He
says the book “is a failed work of a serious man.” In his view, Doctorow, once an
excellent author, has evidently tried to expand his style by almost imitating authors of the
past such as Pynchon and Burroughs, but has succeeded only in clouding his paper, and
confusing the reader with sentances that flow on without style or punctuation, and scenes
which serve only to feed the reader with facts instead of providing drama for the entire
book. He accuses doctorow of hanging on to the past and retelling the same story again,
through different “main” characters, and says this is the reason the book is uninteresting,
saying that “A writer cannot go forward by clinging wholly to his past.” Harris Another
reason he says it is uninteresting is because the two main characters, Joe and Warren
(which are hard to determine between), are vague and hard to understand.
Harris claims that Doctorow’s complete abandonment of punctuation and the
formal sentance in this book are reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon, but it seems as if he is
trying desperately, (and badly) to search for his own style, a way to test his own limits as
an author. While the language and flow of the book is hard to grasp in the beginning, it
soon becomes somewhat more clear to the reader and seems to move the pace of the book
along faster than it did before. But although the book seems to move much faster, it still is
not clear enough to read well. One never knows if the poet Warren Penfield is in the
scene, or if it is Joe again, fleeing his parents in a long walk through the country. The facts
shown in the book, the details in every scene, show no actual drama or emotion, but seem
more like a documentary: “E.L. Doctorow and his quest to the train-car in the woods!,” a
show no Discovery Channel executive would ever want to air. He spends at least 2 pages
describing this train car full of great luxury and wealth, just because Joe saw it passing the
night before, and wanted to get a glimpse inside. In a large example of doctorow’s
abandoment of punctuation in a failed attempt at a new style, he write, “In the girl’s
bedroom i sat on the plump mattress newly made up with fresh sheets thich quilt of satiny
material there was no sign of her of course not a thread not a bobby pin but as i thought
about it the faintest intimation fo a scent, not an unfamiliar scent...” By speeding up the
reading by not adding commas or any punctuation at all for that matter he only serves to
cloud his writing muddle it with speed tell it to go faster faster go go write more must go
faster can’t breath need punctuation stop!
Another problem Doctorow encountered in Loon Lake was that he seemed to
switch between points of view too many times, and, more often than not, in awkward
parts of the book. There was a section, nine pages into the book, where Doctorow was
talking about Joe in the third person, “When the nights were bad, when the uncanny
sounds in the woods kept him awake...” and suddenly switched to first person, having Joe
talk directly to the reader, saying “I didnt want these mockeries to my own kingship....”
Doctorow seems to do this many tmes throughout the book, and it gets pretty confusing.
That, combined with the little to no punctuation he uses, serves to further confuse the
reader as to who is talking or what is going on.
Despite the terrible picking out of sentances one must do to read this book, once you get
into it and become interested, it really is a good book. Just seeing the world through the
eyes of each of these boys (when you can figure out which you are looking through!) is
rather intriguing, because it is a different era than this is, and everything in it, including the
people, was different. Even if Doctorow didnt succeed in telling a new story an old way,
he at least retold an old story an interesting, if hard to read, way.