temporary literature that populates itsnfictional world with freaks and grotesquesnand their nonhero victimizers.nThe fat lady dies from the violation,nthe carny owner’s wife and Joe run offnwith the proceeds collected at the event,nJoe decides the wife is fat and ugly too,nsexually brutalizes her (but the old bagnloves it), abandons her, then takes thenmoney and scatters it to the winds. Onenmight object that such winsome philanthropynis not in Joe’s character, but atnthis point in the proceedings who cannthink of such trifles? Literature such asnthis, so awash in moral anomie, is notnin itself remarkable—it’s quite commonnthese days. Truly amazing is the author’snapparent belief that he has redeemednhimself (or Joe) with this flimsy finalngesture, that he has made some sort ofnstatement.nAnd here comes another of Doctorow’snstatements (it’s hard to determinenfrom the format whether this is meantnas poetry or as a computer print-out):nGenerally speaking a view of thenavailable economic systems thatnhave been tested historically mustnacknowledge the immense powernof capitalism to generate livingnstandards food housing educationnthe amenities to a degree unprecedentednin human civilization. Thenbenefits of such a system whilenoccasionally random and unpredictablenwith periods of undeniablenstress and misery depressionnstarvation and degradation areninevitably distributed to a greaternand greater percentage of thenpopulation. The periods of economicnstability also ensure a greater degreenof popular political freedom andnamong the industrial Westernndemocracies today despite occasionalnsuppression of free speechnquashing of dissent corruption ofnpublic officials and despite thentendency of legislation to serve theninterests of the ruling businessnoligarchy the poisoning of the airnwater the chemical adulteration ofnfood the obscene development ofn10nChronicles of Cultttrenhideous weaponry the increasedncosts of simple survival the wastenof human resources the ruin of citiesnthe servitude of backward foreignnpopulations the standards of lifenunder capitalism by any criterion arenfar greater than under state socialismnin whatever forms it is found BritishnSwedish Cuban Soviet or Chinese.nThus the good that fierce advocacynof personal wealth accomplishes innthe historical run of things outweighsnthe bad. And while we may not admirenalways the personal motives of ournbusiness leaders we can appreciatenthe inevitable percolation of the goodnlife as it comes down through ournnative American soil.nIs this an acceptance, albeit a grudgingnone, of capitalism? Could it be the largenmonies flooding in from Ragtime’snpaperback and movie sales that havenbrought about this revolution in the author’snconsciousness? Personally, I suspectnhe’s just covering his tracks. Liberalnsocialism has been, even for the mostnobtuse, largely discredited, and if therenis anything Doctorow has, it’s a nose fornchanging fads in thought.nBut of course nothing could be morenrepugnant to his effete, imitative aestheticsn(if one can call it aesthetics) thannthe energetic, creative forces of capitalism.nIn every sentence Doctorow evincesna tired, uncreative mind, fearful of anythingnnew, one that can only regurgitatenin slightly digested form the commonnrun of ideas. Whatever his obfuscations,nthere’s no denying that Doctorow is basicallyna wholehearted devotee of the anti­nnndemocratic left. Just as Ragtime, beneathnits quaint exterior, was propagandanfor political terrorism—all thenmore cowardly for being displaced a hundrednyears in history. If that’s his position,ndespicable though it is, it wouldnhave been at least more honest to comenout in favor of machine-gunning touristsnin the Tel Aviv airport. In this context,nLoon Lake takes on a decidedly uglynappearance upon close inspection.nTake, for instance, our Nietzscheannindustrialist F. W. Bennet. Joe says ofnhim: “I had expected not to like [him].nBut he was insane. How could I resistnthat? There was a manic energy of his,na mad light in his eye. He was free! Thatnwas what free men were like, they shonentheir freedom on everyone.” Later on,nin the discussion quoted before, Bennetnadvises Joe: “Just be sure you have thenguts. So that if you have to steal or takena sap to someone’s head for a meal, you’llnbe able to. Every kind of life has its demandsn…” This is so appealing to Joe,nand Joe is so appealing to Bennet, thatnthey come together in the end in a kindnof homosexual, metaphysical union.nSays Joe, “… he will thank me, thanknme for growing in his heart his heartnbursting his son.” Later: “He [Joe] pullsnhimself up on the float and stands pantingnin the sun, his glistening whitenyoung body inhaling the light, the sunnhealing my [Joe’s] scars my crackednbones my lacerated soul, the sun poweringnmy loins warming them to stir . . .nUp on the hill Bennet stands on his terrace,na tiny man totally attentive. Henhas seen the whole thing, as I knew henwould. He waves at me. I smile my whitenteeth. I wave back.” Bennet adopts Joe,nwho becomes, we are told in the last linenof the biography that concludes thenbook, “Master of Loon Lake.”nSusan Sontag would be screamingn”FASCISM” by now. I make it a point,nhowever, never to introduce such loadednterms into a discussion. Still, one thingnis for certain, Doctorow couldn’t benmore in vogue with his dismal picture ofnpredatory human relationships.nHollywood will love it. Dn