Critical Context

In his treatment of Joe’s quest, desire for fame, and obsession with creating his own identity, Doctorow has created an updated The Great Gatsby. Loon Lake, though, is an even more cynical parody of the search for the American Dream. Loon Lake focuses not only on how the American Dream is attained but also on the negative effects, isolation, and emptiness that accompany the successful quest. Success destroys Doctorow’s protagonist. It is in his narrative experimentation, however, that Doctorow is most contemporary. The concern with metafiction—fiction about the writing of fiction— can also be found in the works of Jorge Luís Borges, Donald Barthelme, and John Barth, among others. This kind of fiction forces readers to become interpreters, creators of a narrative that blends fictional events and characters with historical ones. In that process, it is difficult to determine Doctorow’s own view of the 1930’s, for he mixes cynicism with sentimentality. Doctorow’s narrative experiments in Loon Lake are more radical than those in his earlier, more popular, and more accessible novels such as The Book of Daniel (1971) and Ragtime (1975), but readers of Loon Lake are offered a complex reading of America’s Depression years and the American Dream.