Notes on Time
An Essayby Jayne Anne Phillips
E. L. Doctorow speaks of the characters in his volume of new and selected stories, All the Time in the World, as “people in some sort of contest with the prevailing world,” but readers might also notice signature elements of traditional, layered storytelling cast in a postmodern, contemporary light. How interesting that one of our most eminent men of letters, born into a much younger, certainly nondigital twentieth century, presents us with word of the future. Time—time wasted in misapprehension, time relived continually in the primal memories of our seemingly collective human mind, time hurtling past us as we turn pages—is the real subject of the author’s considerations. Doctorow is always a bit ahead of the dark historical curve, even as the fairy-tale elements in his stories persist in referencing the American dream we remember dreaming. All the time in the world? Yes, in the sense that history loops, even as a technology unleashed by deluded human beings loops it tighter. We meet the celebrants in these stories, the villains, the powerful and powerless, those in charge, those seeking eternity itself, those in pursuit of dignity, privacy, agency in their own lives, and see the American story refracted in glittering shards.