“A book of some many beauties... A joyous kaleidoscopic, dizzying view of contemporary life... A triumphant, bittersweet conjuring up of the landscape of not–so–quiet urban desperation. A book to fall in love with.”
—Chicago Tribune Book World

“Fresh, touching metaphors for the human condition... Doctorow is an impeccable stylist, a man who writes with exceptional clarity and precision.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Doctorow is looking for open wounds of the heart... Better than any fiction I know, Lives of the Poets illuminates the sources from which fiction springs.”
—Newsweek

“Doctorow’s subtlest work of fiction... an account of one manxs search for seriousnessx and for human connection and truth... invaluable.”
—New York Times Book Review


From Lives of the Poets

In 1955 my father died with his ancient mother still alive in a nursing home. The old lady was ninety and hadn’t even known he was ill. Thinking the shock might kill her, my aunts told her that he had moved to Arizona for his bronchitis. To the immigrant generation of my grandmother, Arizona was the American equivalent of the Alps, it was where you went for your health. More accurately, it was where you went if you had the money. Since my father had failed in all the business enterprises of his life, this was the aspect of the news my grandmother dwelled on, that he had finally had some success. And so it came about that as we mourned him at home in our stocking feet, my grandmother was bragging to her cronies about her son’s new life in the dry air of the desert.

My aunts had decided on their course of action without consulting us. It meant neither my mother nor my brother nor I could visit Grandma because we were supposed to have moved west too, a family, after all. My brother Harold and I didn’t mind— it was always a nightmare at the old people’s home, where they all sat around staring at us while we tried to make conversation with Grandma. She looked terrible, had numbers of ailments, and her mind wandered. Not seeing her was no disappointment either for my mother, who had never gotten along with the old woman and did not visit when she could have. But what was disturbing was that my aunts had acted in the manner of that side of the family of making government on everyone’s behalf, the true citizens by blood and the lesser citizens by marriage. It was exactly this attitude that had tormented my mother all her married life. She claimed Jack’s family had never accepted her. She had battled them for twenty–five years as an outsider.

A few weeks after the end of our ritual mourning my Aunt Frances phoned us from her home in Larchmont. Aunt Frances was the wealthier of my father’s sisters. Her husband was a lawyer, and both her sons were at Amherst. She had called to say that Grandma was asking why she didn’t hear from Jack. I had answered the phone.

...You’re the writer in the family... my aunt said... Your father had so much faith in you. Would you mind making up something? Send it to me and I’ll read it to her. She won’t know the difference...

Excerpted from Lives of the Poets by E. L. Doctorow Copyright © 2012 by E.L. Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.