This may be the worst book I've ever read. It wasn't just the fact that the narrative switches back and forth between third person, first person, and bad poetry; or the fact that rules of grammar and punctuation don't seem to exist, making it necessary to go back and read the same sentence several times in the hopes of figuring out what it's saying; but the fact that scenes and characters come out of the blue, go back and forth in time, and have no cohesion whatsoever that makes this book truly bad.
The final words in this CVMaster of Loon Lakeserve to caption the fore mentioned final image: Joe Paterson lolling in the middle of a placid, forested mountain lake, showing himself off to his appreciative patron, industrialist and union breaker, F.W. Bennett. Warren Penfield has arrived at Loon Lake by a more circuitous route, his life fully underway, having endured as a youth his familys itinerant existence as hard-scrabble union miners in Colorado, a short stay in a sanitarium, service in France during World War I, a short stint as a union man in Seattle, then a longer period in Japan, much of it as a zen acolyte. Propelled by the desire to kill F.W. Bennett, the industrialist and union breaker behind the deaths of people hes known, Warren makes his way to Loon Lake in 1930. For the fulfillment of their separate visions of the girl Claraa young, uncouth, urban woman who is given by a mobster to serve as Bennetts mistressWarren and Joe work together to help her escape from the lake, and Joe accompanies her on a meandering flight to Indiana. Joe then returns to Loon Lake and, playing on Bennetts good will towards him, makes himself the tycoons ward and adoptive son. Two women are principal attractions to the men in this novel: the fore mentioned Clara and the aviatrix Lucinda Bennett, F.W.s wife. I suggested with the word dossier that the information about Joe, Bennett, Clara, Lucinda, et al., is in the nature of a data dump, which idea is echoed in Warrens poetryData linkage escape this is not an emergency / Come with me compound with me and when he invites his auditor to compute with me. A later chapter, alluding to Joes access to information as an intelligence officer, speaks of the data and countervailing data surrounding the life of F.W. Bennett.
This, along with the riveting stream-of-consciousness vignettes, give Loon Lake a rhythmic quality unlikely to appear in a straightforward, linear story. The novel's horrific scenes make the reader apprehensive that Loon Lake will play out like a Coen Brothers movie (of the Fargo, No Country for Old Men variety) by the end.
(The mixed up chronology contributes to the experimental feeling of the novel.) A difficult read, with even the most traditional parts of the narrative flipping between first and third person, Loon Lake is also atmospheric and interesting for a reader prepared to make the effort.
Let me preface this with this: I LOVE E.L. Doctorow. Loved The Book of Daniel.
Doctorow's private excitement that day resulted in Loon Lake, published in 1979. Maybe all this makes Loon Lake experimental. "Of course not all, in fact very few, of the writers private excitements are resolved as books," Doctorow concluded in those 1994 comments.
His work was wittily experimental, self-consciously used past literary styles, could often be described as pastiche, often switched perspective, was playful, he played literary games...the new buzz word at the time for all this was postmodernist. There is not a clean narrative, it switches perspective, switches time lines, fractures into shortish passages, cuts back on its chronology, sometimes switches from first to third person...this is strange (although not that strange for anyone who has read Pynchon, Barthelme, Brautigan or other American writers of the 1960s and 70s...and the skipping though time had been used in cinema for the previous 20 years) and one of its effects is to draw us up, make us slow down, not rush from one narrative incident to the next, consider their purpose and relationship to each other...and, it should be emphasized, it makes it fun.
At first, I was very surprised with Loon Lake because I didnt expect it to be as much experimental as it was - good thing that I like such novels. Despite many of the not-so-positive reviews here and despite the fact that they are actually spot-on and true in some statements, Im gonna have to go with the 5* rating anyways.