A major character in this book earns his fortune by drawing scenes on booklets bound together. When they are flipped through, the illustrations come to life. It's a picture story with fits and starts depending on the skill of the person flipping the pages.
This feeling of watching a disjointed but continuous story is what Ragtime was to me. Different characters float in and out of the main storylines all adding momentary interest. We are privy to bizarre conversations between JP Morgan and Henry Ford and the muddled thinking of Harry Houdini. This was pretty fascinating in and of itself and for a moment, I could imagine that Doctorow had some secret information about who these people "really" were.
The family at the center is nameless: Father, Mother, and Younger Brother are anyone and everyone who is middle class during a rapidly changing time. They have a real disconnectedness between one another that goes along with their names. Younger Brother is searching for love and purpose and makes his choices to fit his desires. Father is a traveler to remote locations and seems to leave a bit of his personality behind each times he leaves, bringing back less and less of his "real" self.
Mother evolves from a "typical" housewife who waits for her husband to a woman who can call the shots in the relationship. Other characters: Tateh and his daughter, Sarah and Coalhouse and Little Boy add much but are larger than life. I enjoyed each but really couldn't care about them. Exaggerations are hard to relate to.
I liked this novel more than I thought I would but didn't love it. I feel like I need more of a connection although I am sure that Doctorow's intention was to keep it at arm's length for the reader.