Doctorow slowly brings in historical characters as the story builds, and as I found with Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbitt, establishes their presence and then often brings them back around in some proximity to the lives of the fictional family that is the main story line. What this does is has the reader looking for details to guess where the paths may cross.
There were a few chapters that focused on J. Pierpont Morgan, giving him background and character depth before we find his fascination with Henry Ford and the Egyptian artifacts as proof of reincarnation. It is interesting, and yet what I feel is the brief encounters with these historical figures doesn’t always get to a particular point that ties in with the main thread of story.
The last chapters returned us to the family home, and recalled a young black woman who the family has taken in after finding her nearly dead newborn in their garden where she tried to bury him. Doctorow gets into quite a bit of detail about a black man who has tracked down the woman and who continues to visit the family on a weekly basis though the woman refuses to see him. Then he plays ragtime on the piano for the family, the woman agrees to see him, and the two end up married. Here’s where I got a bit frustrated as the woman’s character was never really developed and the whole scenario didn’t seem up to the amount of space given it.
I suppose that even though these two characters were not supposedly based on real people, I should keep them handy as they may pop up again. The shorts like this do make me wonder…