Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature

*Jazz* and *Ragtime* (Combined Salon)

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Set primarily in Harlem in 1926, when jazz was bursting forth from the traditions of gospel and blues, this 1992 novel is one of Morrison’s most experimental and least accessible. Written from multiple points of view, it uses the patterns of jazz itself for its structure. A series of overarching themes connects the work, but these are seen in individual characterizations and episodes which flash backward and forward, twisting and turning as they connect, misconnect, change, and ultimately create a unique world larger than the sum of its individual parts.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow

Doctorow depicts an era that is generally regarded in the American historical consciousness as being primarily bucolic and carefree. The nation, relatively innocent, having shaken off the aftereffects of the civil war, has recently won the spurious Spanish-American war, and is generally reveling in a sense of purpose and civility. What Doctorow suggests is that this serene surface was already infected with a host of social ills festering beneath it. A shift was occurring that would lead to labor riots, race riots, change in sexual attitudes, a loss of faith in institutions, etc. that would define the 20th century. Doctorow is above all an interesting storyteller. He knows how to keep a plot moving and how to invest it with enough intellectual hardware to make the reader feel that his/her time has been worth the effort. He can bring a scene to life with a few fresh (never shopworn) details. A few brushstrokes and we are there. His writing is cinematic, in that we can “see” the scene he is depicting, without burdening us with excess verbiage. This is the hallmark of a really good author. Ragtime is a primary example of this kind of shorthand acumen.