E.L. Doctorow doesn’t need an introduction. If you haven’t read Ragtime, I can’t imagine what you are waiting for. You could say the same about a half dozen of his other books. He’s about as good as it gets with novels, but prior to this week, I’d never read his short stories. “Wakefield” and “Edgemont Drive” are the first two stories in his new collection All the Time in the World.
“Wakefield” is Howard Wakefield, attorney at law, husband, father, suburbanite. He’s left his wife – accidentally, but he doesn’t really feel the desire to reverse the process, and finally he doesn’t know how. After a particularly crappy commute home, circumstance lead him to his garage attic, where he sits in an old chair and inadvertently falls asleep. Awakening the following morning, he realizes he has been reported missing, and decides to see what happens. He spends the next months scavenging for food in neighbors’ cans and watching his wife through the bedroom window.
Wakefield feels enlarged, freed from the tedium of his practice and the pull and tear of domestic life. How he gets back to his life is a tidy testament to how one fails to escape one’s worst tendencies.
In “Edgemont Drive” we meet a couple whose life together seems a running argument. He’s hard and restrictive, she’s soft-headed and naive, they tell each other. Their regimen is disturbed by the presence of a man parked in a Ford Falcon in front of their house. Who he is and why he is there brings a change to the family.
I liked both of these stories, “Wakefield” a bit more, I guess. I liked how Doctorow goes places he doesn’t in his novels, suburbia, in these two cases, and I was particularly struck by the styles of each story. Wakefield is written in first person- almost the entire story is the interior monologue of Howard, while Edgemont Drive is entirely dialogue – between husband, wife, guest, and eventually cop. Doctorow’s got such control and style, he can use any form, it seems, to lift the veil on what makes his people tick. Good stuff.