World’s Fair begins with the earliest memories of Edgar Altschuler and concludes when he is nine years old with two visits to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. Edgar is the first-person narrator of thirty-one chapters, but his retrospective point of view merges the naïve impressions of a child with the more perceptive reflections of an adult. Four brief sections narrated by Rose, two sections narrated by Donald, and one section narrated by Edgar’s Aunt Frances supplement Edgar’s egocentric version of the family history. By making the street address and first names of the fictional Altschulers coincide with the actual address and names of his own family, Doctorow suggests that Edgar’s story of growing up is a thinly disguised account of his own boyhood.
Presented as a memoir, this novel has a loose, episodic plot. First, Rose establishes a foundation for Edgar’s narrative with brief comments about her parents’ emigration from Russia and her own birth on the Lower East Side. Then Edgar describes his horror upon awaking in a urine-soaked crib and the subsequent comfort of being dried and transported to his parents’ warm bed. Amid such scenes of parental protection, Edgar also recalls episodes fraught with fear and mystery. A car almost kills his dog Pinky, and thugs from nearby Italian and Irish neighborhoods draw swastikas on the family’s garage doors.
As Edgar’s horizons expand, he observes tensions in the extended family during Sunday visits to Dave’s parents and at a Seder meal. He also overhears his parents argue about Dave’s business mistakes, his gambling, and his alleged infidelities. On a trip to...
(The entire section is 684 words.)