Friday, October 02, 2009

World's Fair

E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair (1985) culminates with two 1940 visits to the 1939/1940 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, New York City, but much of the story takes place during the 1930s in or near the Bronx. Doctorow's semi-autobiographical tale centers around Edgar, the primary narrator, and his extended family. The finely articulated attention to detail and subtle character development allows the author to steer clear of any need for dramatic conflict; life during the Great Depression provides challenges enough. There are hooligans, yes, but most overt villains are off the stage, in Europe and elsewhere.

A few chapters are narrated by Edgar's mother, an aunt, and his older brother Donald, all as if told to Edgar, who was a young boy in the 1930s. For the most part, Edgar's childhood is described in a way that melds his contemporary boyhood consciousness with an older Edgar's reconstructions. This hybrid method works very effectively.

I really like World's Fair. It reminds me of my family's trip to the 1964/1965 World's Fair, located on the same grounds as the 1939/1940 version.

The most recent American World's Fair was the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans. The earliest possible return to the States would be in mid-2017, but given today's selection of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, I wouldn't hold my breath. Expo 2010 will be in Shanghai, China.

For anyone under thirty or so, you'll either have to travel far or wait a good long while for the experience; meantime, I recommend Doctorow's novel.

A perfect companion novel to World's Fair is Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (2004); although it imagines Charles Lindbergh as having been elected president in 1940, it, too, is packed with autobiographical family details comparable to Doctorow's.

Today's Rune: Fertility.


Anonymous said...

My fave is Chicago 1933. Art Deco pandemonium!

the walking man said...

I would have liked the Olympics for Chicago simply because it would have generated jobs. But in retrospect there has never been a South American Olympic games that I was able to find. The closest being the 1968 Mexico City games. and while in Latin America it isn't South America so I say well done Rio.

And Erik if it is you I owe thanks to for Michigan State Library contacting me...Thank You very Much!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Another one I should read. I've looked at this but have always hesitated.

jodi said...

Erik, We used to wait with bated breath for our local fair that always was the last fling before school started. Remember that song that said, "when my baby bothers me, I go to Rio, de Janiero"?

Evan said...

I don't think I ever knew that your family had been to the 1964/1965 World's Fair. I was there as well. My father took me there by himself - 3 days in NYC in September of 1965. When were you all there?

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all for the comments, yeah!
WM, agreed. The Library may have found you independently. Charles, I'd been planning to read it since it came out. . . Jody, you bet, that's cool.

Evan, amazing what we still learn. We went probably the summertime, 1965. We also saw Goldfinger when it came out. The Fair ended in October '65. What do you remember?