An extraordinarily deft, lyrical, rich novel that catches the spirit of this country in an era between the turn of the century and the First World War in a fluid, musical way that is as original as it is satisfying.
[…] I was so desperate to write something, I was facing the wall of my study in my house in New Rochelle and so I started to write about the wall. […] It was built in 1906, you see, so I thought about the era and what Broadview Avenue looked like then: trolley cars ran along the avenue down at the bottom of the hill; people wore white clothes in the summer to stay cool. Teddy Roosevelt was President.
It’s hard to make a whole book out of what Doctorow does best here; it’s excellent in vignettes and short passages but unsuited for plots where we come to know the characters too well. […] After the story gets into full swing Doctorow can’t keep us from relaxing with his fictions, and as a result story makes his history predictable and easy just as politics makes Dos Passos’s history predictable and easy in U.S.A.
…the rich killer Harry Thaw stripping naked and banging his penis between the bars of his cell at the Tombs while Houdini watches, radical Emma Goldman relieving scandalous Evelyn Nesbit of her corset and giving her a loving oil massage. It smacked of playing with helpless dead puppets, and turned the historical novel into a gravity-free, faintly sadistic game.
Ragtime is a more legitimate piece of fiction than is suggested by its Broadway adaptation. Its postmodernist storytelling and expressive episodic structure are successful, inventive, and altogether readable.— Brian Flanagan