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Loon Lake: A Novel Paperback – September 11, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

It is the Great Depression of the 1930s, and a passionate young man from Paterson, New Jersey, leaves home to find his fortune. What he finds, on a cold and lonely night in the Adirondack Mountains, is a vision of life so different from his own that it changes his destiny, leading him from the side of a railroad track to a magical place called Loon Lake. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

E. L. Doctorow’s works of fiction include Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, The Waterworks, City of God, The March, Homer & Langley, and Andrew’s Brain. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/ Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. In 2014 he was honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like all Doctorow, Loon Lake tells an amazingly interesting tale with vibrant, often beautiful, sometimes brutal detail. Even though few readers will be able to relate directly to the plotline (set in pre-WWII USA), Doctorow (as usual) manages to uncover universally human feeling despite the strange adventures the story depicts. A great work, but be warned: the switching from first to third person, tense shifts, and interspersion of poetry makes this a challenging work, but well worth the effort. I give it 4 instead of 5 stars only because, while great, the book is a notch below Billy Bathgate.
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Format: Paperback
E.L. Doctorow is a remarkable writer, and even in Loon Lake --perhaps his most uneven and experimental book-- he frequently demonstrates his capacity to captivate, delight and astound. As other reviews have indicated, however, the book often suffers from sudden shifts in tense and perspective, and is partially composed of what appears to be intentionally bad poetry, a kind of fractured verse that reads like a sketch or outline for various parts of the narrative.

Part of the rationale for this, as the confused reader eventually learns, is that one of the focal characters is a failed poet. Loon Lake follows two intersecting story lines, and initially reads like two different books smashed together: one about the failed poet and one about Joe the hobo. Though the poet's tale contains evocative descriptions of formative experiences in Colorado and Japan, his story feels largely irrelevant to the main thread of the book. And while Joe's lean, haunting journey through Depression-era America is often vividly engaging, the shifty, inconsistent style of his narration renders him seemingly unreliable and strangely alien.

The New York Times' 1980 review of the book suggests that Joe's transgressions of narrative form are emblematic of the degree of freedom he finally achieves. For me this seems like a real stretch. Loon Lake ends so abruptly that it's difficult to know whether Joe's fate is a triumph or a tragedy, whether his 'achievements' ultimately satisfy or disappoint. I found the book to be a compelling but unfulfilling read, and would only readily recommend it for E.L. Doctorow completists or those interested in the time period. Unfortunately, despite a wealth of rich material, Loon Lake seems inexpertly cobbled together and oddly unfinished.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In writing this book, the author of several successful but conventional novels earned the right to show his fellow writers what he is capable of. There are amazing flights of imagination, changes of style, voice and point of view . . . The language can be quite remarkable.

The narrator is a tough street kid who grows up in Paterson, New Jersey, but who cons his way into a rich man's life. It is a rags-to-riches novel, but one that unfolds in an entirely original and experimental way.

The narrator, who has lived like a hobo, is adopted by his wealthy patron, and he winds up with an Ivy League education and the rich man's name. What I especially love about this book is the way Doctorow mixes the diction, so that the narrator's voice is alternately crude and polished. The idea that a voice could sound like this--and convincingly so--has been a great lesson to me.

I can understand why this book would turn off and confuse an average reader, but if you are a writer yourself, or if have an interest in experimental prose, this really deserves your attention.
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Format: Paperback
E.L. Doctorow's novels have taken us from the post-Civil War 1870's (The Waterworks) to the merry-go-round of early 1900's (Ragtime) and in Loon Lake, the stark world of America in the Great Depression of the 1930's, gets this author's masterful touch. This novel shows yet again how it is possible for a great writer to weave a novel out of the tiniest of circumstances. In this case, a young man from New Jersey has set off during the worst of the depression to walk the railroad tracks and seek a better life. He hears a train coming, so he steps off and is passed by a number of luxurious private railroad cars, one of which contains a beautiful, naked woman standing in front of a mirror, holding up a dress to her body. The young man elects to follow this train and winds up at Loon Lake, the vast private estate of one of the wealthiest men in the east. The young man spends some time on this estate amid the gathering of peculiar characters there-the magnet's aviatrix wife, an obese writer and would-be political assassin--and finally decides to head west. He steals a car from the billionaire who owns Loon Lake, and agrees to give a ride to a gangster's girlfriend, the woman he'd seen that night, who is trying to evade her violent criminal lover. The pair head to Indiana and settle in a factory town literally owned, brick by brick, by the industrialist whose east coast estate they'd fled. There the main character gets a job and becomes embroiled in a union versus management conflict that sets his life off in an incredible direction. The fall and rise story of the ambitious, brave-hearted young man told of in Loon Lake is little short of a metaphor for the American dream.
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