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All the Time in the World: New and Selected…
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All the Time in the World: New and Selected Stories

by E. L. Doctorow

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My second book won on first-reads, and my first Doctorow.

A good introduction to Doctorow overall. His writing style was fluid and very enjoyable. The stories, unfortunately, seemed rather dull. I may try his novels, though, which are more highly praised. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
E.L. Doctorow’s new short story collection, All the Time in the World, is a collection of twelve stories that have been published previously in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Kenyon Review, and The New American Review. Moreover, six of the stories have been included in previous short story collections, meaning that only six of the twelve are appearing in book form for the first time. Because the stories were written over a period of “many years,” the collection is an opportunity for first-time readers of Doctorow short stories to catch up a little.

Stylistically, these stories are all over the map. That means, of course, that their individual appeal will vary from reader to reader. I, for example, generally favor stories with relatively direct approaches to plot and theme, and I consider it a bonus if the stories also offer fully developed characters. Stories with a less linear approach, particularly those that use a stream-of-consciousness style, work less successfully for me. The stories in All the Time in the World take several different approaches – and two or three of them, I confess, did leave me a bit mystified.

Several of these dozen stories stand out, including the first in the collection, “Wakefield,” a story about a businessman who, almost by accident, fails to return to his family one evening after his work commute is disrupted by a massive power failure. Instead, he hides out above the family garage, from where - over several months - he watches his wife and two daughters get on with the rest of their lives.

Among others, there are stories about a murderous mother and son, an inane religious cult, women hardened by life’s demands, a stranger who longs to get inside his childhood home one more time, and a teenage boy obliged to write letters from his dead father to his senile grandmother. Some take place in the small town America that existed shortly after the Civil war, some in America’s large modern cities, and others in the suburbs.

Taken as a whole, the stories confirm that E.L. Doctorow is a talented short story writer despite his having produced so few of them over his long writing career. Although the author will always be first thought of as a novelist, the stories selected for All the Time in the World make it obvious that he can write short stories with the best of them.

Rated at: 3.0 ( )
  SamSattler | Aug 20, 2012 |
A couple of the stories have been adapted and incorporated into his novels but mostly this is a collection of stories written for literary journals. The current collection contains six stories that appeared either in Sweet Land Stories, published in 2004, or in 1984's Lives of the Poets. Four of the remaining six stories, including one later adapted for his novel City of God, were first published in The New Yorker.

They are all about outsiders or alienated individuals which is their common thread. The thematic thread is dark but entrancing.

No story better illustrates that unity than "Wakefield," which opens the volume. Drawing its inspiration from the same wellspring as John Cheever's classics "The Country Husband" or "The Swimmer," Doctorow describes a character who stumbles back to his suburban home after a power outage strands his commuter train and decides to take up residence in his detached garage, vanishing from his life in the process. Doctorow renders that bizarre premise completely plausible, as Howard Wakefield, a seemingly successful New York City attorney, manages to slip the bonds of his crumbling marriage. "I lived in Diana's judgment," he observes of his wife on the night of his fateful decision, "it shone upon me as in a prison cell where the light is never turned off."

"Walter John Harmon" and "Heist" both deal with characters experiencing crises of faith. The narrator of the former story lives in a community led by a Jim Jones/David Koresh-like character who makes off with both the narrator's wife and the community's treasury. The story's concluding sentence is as chilling as any to be found in recent short fiction. Thomas Pemberton, the protagonist of "Heist," is a troubled Episcopal priest facing professional discipline for his sermons fueled by a growing skepticism. "Why must faith rely on innocence," he asks. "Must it be blind? Why must it come of people's need to believe?"

In "A House on the Plains" (a tale that seems to share its lineage with the best of Stephen King's mature short fiction), he tells the story of a murderous widow in post-Civil War Illinois.

"Jolene: A Life" recounts 10 nomadic years in the life of a young woman who marries at 15 and then flees a series of disastrous relationships across the United States, from South Carolina to West Hollywood.

A husband and wife - who have elevated verbal sparring to a fine art - see their relationship exposed in bare relief when a homeless poet who once lived in their home enters their life. "Edgemont Drive" is the story of a man who appears one day at a home where he claims he once lived.

A young immigrant, with aspirations to produce films, takes a dishwasher's job in a criminal enterprise, and agrees to marry the top honcho's beautiful niece for money. Yet this mercenary decision entangles him in a greater emotional involvement than he ever expected.

A teenage boy named Jack - the writer in the family - is prevailed upon by an aunt to write letters to his ancient grandmother in the voice of his recently deceased father...until he comes face to face with his father's real dream of life.

And, in the eponymous final story, an urban citizen, out for a typical morning run, no longer recognizes his city and suspects that a nefarious Program has put him there without his consent.
  gmicksmith | Mar 24, 2012 |
A collection of short stories that touches upon different aspects of how life can be changed through experiences and decisions.
  SalemAthenaeum | Jun 17, 2011 |
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A collection of short works includes the stories of a couple who become estranged after a mysterious man claims he grew up in their house, and a Russian bus boy who is entangled with an organized crime ring.

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