We expect that Doctorow will use some piece of New York City's past as the setting for each of his novels but we also expect that he will give us a story with drama, tragedy or some wry take on the human comedy. In World's Fair he only gives us the view of time past. There is precious little story in this book. It deals with a young boy and his family during the 1930's and concerns itself mostly with ordinary life and the ups and downs of family relations. The story is mostly told by the younger son (who is nine at book's end) as he recounts his earliest memories, preoccupations, dreams, friends, illnesses and enthusiasms, but other characters (his mother, older brother and aunt) all have chapters in which they 'remember' the story from their own point of view. Yet if the plot is thin, the sense of reality generated by the writing is substantial. Doctorow uses the ordinary life of his characters to reflect and represent the broader story of the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, the extreme political divisions of the time, the fear of impending war and the great hope in a bright and shiney future free of the dark menace of poverty and repression.
This book kept me focused from the first few sentences. It doesn't demand a lot from the reader but it delivers a great deal. I suspect that there is a great deal of Doctorow himself in his main character. He was born in 1931, so would have been about the right age to experience the music, radio shows, games and other experiences that make up his protagonist's world. He certainly feels strongly about these simple byegone experiences and manages to convey that to the reader. This is a very satisfying glimpse into the life of ordinary but interesting people and I highly recommend it.