Joe was an untalkative sandyhaired boy who could pitch a mean outcurve when he was still little. He learned to swim and dive in Rock Creek and used to say he wanted to be motorman on a streetcar when he grew up. For several years his best friend was Alec McPherson whose father was a locomotive engineer on the B. and O. After that Joe wanted to be a locomotive engineer. Janey used to tag around after the two boys whenever they'd let her, to the carbarns at the head of Pennsylvania Avenue where they made friends with some of the conductors and motormen who used to let them ride on the platform a couple of blocks sometimes if there wasn't any inspector around, down along the canal or up Rock Creek where they caught tadpoles and fell in the water and splashed each other with mud.I bought the U.S.A. Trilogy years ago, after reading lots of opinions to the effect that what Dos Passos had written was one of the great American novels of the 20th century. The first volume has hooked me, because of the mosaic technique Dos Passos used to create a multi-perspective narrative of America in the early 20th century. There are several principal stories, interspersed with newsreel sections (quotes from the current events of the time), brief biographical portraits of historical figures, and Camera Eye sections recounting episodes from Dos Passos's life in a stream of consciousness format. This main narrative, named after its protagonist and set in Georgetown, is the most absorbing one so far.
Summer evenings when the twilight was long after supper they played lions and tigers with other kids from the neighborhood in the long grass of some empty lots near Oak Hill Cemetery. There were long periods when there was measles or scarlet fever around and Mommer wouldn't let them out. Then Alec would come down and they'd play three-o-cat in the back yard. Those were the times Janey liked best. Then the boys treated her as one of them. Summer dusk would come down on them sultry and full of lightningbugs. [...] The dense sweaty night was scary, hummed, rumbled with distant thunder, with junebugs, with the clatter of traffic from M Street, the air of the street dense and breathless under the thick trees; but when she was with Alec and Joe she wasn't scared, not even of drunks or big shamblefooted colored-men.
-- John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel (1929), "Janey," p. 108
Peter Goettler is the new head of Cato
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