Like all city children of my generation I revered the Marx Brothers. I don’t recall bothering to understand why they were so funny, but I looked forward to each of their movies for what I knew would happen: they would dismantle any society in which they found themselves. Everywhere they went they brought chaos and confusion. Nothing could stop them.
Groucho, Chico, and Harpo may not have been the only comedians to outrage propriety, violate custom, and make a shambles of the hope of human dignity, but they disdained the dramatized self-usage of a Keaton or a W. C. Fields, offering instead the brazen assertion of themselves as Marx brothers no matter what names were assigned to them by their screenwriters. Always they stood outside the milieu of their movies, heaping verbal or physical abuse on any character actor who had the misfortune to serve as their foil. They were unremitting surrealists. Even their musical interludes— Chico at his piano, Harpo at his harp— had no discernible dramatic justification. What made them the most radical of their profession was that their comedy, unmediated by anything like normal sentiment, went to the root of the vital social pretense that life is purposeful and the universe subject to reason.
“Doctorow’s playful title... masks a serious purpose— to examine the mystery and the magic of human creation... Although each [piece] bears Doctorow’s signature intelligence and lyricism, each has a singularity, as well... [He] has no peer in his powerful use of imagery... A first-rate collection from a first-rate writer.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“One of the delights of E.L. Doctorow— beyond the simple enticement of smartness— is his joy in lyricism. He just can’t avoid his love of language... He tools along in a swirl of lush and near-exotic imagery of ideas that is at the same time utterly, almost prosaically accessible... These are illuminating, essential essays... Doctorow [is] one of our more brilliant writers.”
“A distinctive, provocative collection... fascinating.”
—Deseret Morning News
“Brilliantly written, Doctorow’s cultural and literary analysis abounds in acute literary characterizations and mordant observations.”
“Creationists exhibits another aspect of [Doctorow’s ] talent, the analytic, expository, essayistic one... Those readers who enjoy a writer’s privileged insights into his fellow craftsman will be [enlightened].”